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Dave Ryding could put skiing in the spotlight says chief exec!
Dave Ryding always wanted his career to go downhill. He just never knew it would go downhill quite so fast.
For that reason, he was still struggling on Monday to comprehend the brilliant madness of 24 hours earlier, when he became the first Briton since Konrad Bartelski in 1981 to finish on the podium at an Alpine World Cup event.
His second-placed slalom down the snowy hills of Kitzbuhel, Austria and that of Bartelski, 36 years ago in Val Gardena, Italy, are astounding moments in a sport best performed by those born away from these isles. When Bartelski had his run, a French commentator famously said: ‘This is not possible, he is English.’
And yet Ryding’s feat should have been even less possible, given the constraints of competing without Lottery funding against snow sport’s powerhouse nations and their powerhouse budgets.
But the skier known as the Rocket had threatened to snare a big boy this season and on Sunday he blasted a few off the mountain.
The 30-year-old’s comparison on Monday was to ‘Accrington Stanley against Manchester City’.
A joke in the afterglow of a hugely unlikely success, but not much of an exaggeration for a skier who until this year barely covered his costs, let alone drew a salary. Bridging the gap has been a story of perseverance and family sacrifice.
‘It’s been a hard road, to be honest,’ Ryding reflected on Monday.
His path, he explained, started as a boy in Bretherton, Lancashire. His father Carl once ran a market stall selling ladies’ underwear and his mother Shirley is a hairdresser. ‘It all started because my parents used to go on one family holiday a year and it was always a skiing holiday,’ said Ryding. ‘Literally, always a skiing holiday from six or so onwards. My dad really enjoyed skiing and so we all learned.
‘It’s obviously not like Austria for us in Britain. In Austria they are on the snow from the time they can walk. I started out at Pendle Ski Club, on the dry slops, and I loved it straight away and it snowballed. Once we were good enough, we used to go to the Grand Massif, two weeks a year, and it was great.’
From there, the options for a young skier in the North West are reasonably limited. It’s a costly business in a country where centralised financial backing tends to go to sports that offer a better chance of winning. For the Ryding family that meant some big decisions.
‘My dad was working in a market,’ Ryding said. ‘He realised he needed to bring in a bit more money for me and my sister to ski and so he retrained as a gas engineer. It basically gave us the opportunity. From that the rest has followed one stage at a time.’
On a domestic level, it has meant a successful career of seven British titles. But on foreign mountains, on the greatest levels of skiing competition, British titles tended to be worth little more than a hill of beans.
Ryding’s first trip to the Winter Olympics came in 2010, where he finished 23rd in the slalom. What he learned was that bigger, stronger athletes were dominating and he resolved to hit the gym. He was building his new body at a time when the sport in this country was at risk of being dismantled, with all Lottery funding withdrawn from the Alpine programme following the Games.
That ought to have derailed Ryding, but he finished 17th in Sochi in the 2014 Winter Olympics, having committed solely to slalom over downhill and giant slalom, and then, against all odds, started to make an impact on world level.