55 years is a long time to wait, especially in a sport where a hundredth of a second can mean the difference between standing on the podium or watching the medals ceremony from the side.
Saturday’s World Cup slalom event in Kitzbuhel, Austria marked the end of the wait for British ski racing, that began with the inception of the alpine skiing World Cup. Dave Ryding became the first British winner in the history of the World Cup. Ryding, a 35-year-old from Lancashire is also now the oldest ever winner of a men’s World Cup slalom event.
Growing up training on a dry slope, Ryding didn’t ski on snow until he was 12 during a family ski trip, promised by his parents if he and his sister practiced before they went.
“I had to learn everything later as I wasn’t exposed to the mountains until I was older,” he said.
His nearly 30 year journey was never smoothly paved, but he credits the ups and downs with giving him the work ethic to stick with it.
“You do one race and you’re not happy with it, you’re down in the dumps again, you pick yourself up, you get slapped back down again. It’s relentless, but you learn to deal with it, to push out of the gate and go for it.”
Standing in the gates for his 97th World Cup appearance since his debut in 2009, he did just that.
Starting sixth for his second run on one of the circuit’s most challenging slalom courses in heavy snowfall, he says “I thought: ‘Bugger it, I’ll just try and get down and ski as well as I can and see where that gets me.’”
The last five racers finished well behind Ryding, or not at all and that was it.
Coach Tristan Glasse-Davies and ski technician Jai Geyer were cheering loudly from the coaches area as Ryding knelt to kiss the snow.
“It mean’s everything, it’s incredible. No one deserves it more than Dave,” said Geyer.
Ryding will be appearing at his fourth Olympics in Beijing next month, “Obviously the pressure and expectation will have ramped up but I won’t be defined by an Olympics. I’ve had an amazing career that I’m proud of. To win one has taken the weight off my shoulders.”