By Neil Leverett
- Brit Dave Ryding outside medal contender in Men’s Slalom
- 31-year-old from Lancashire has built consistently from last season’s break-out World Cup campaign
- XXIII Olympic Winter Games begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 9
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – With the 2018 Winter Games now just days away, in the fourth of a series of close-ups on some of Team GB’s brightest medal hopes in South Korea, we focus first on Dave Ryding, the Lancashire skier who learned on dry slopes earlier in his career and is eyeing a first Slalom ski medal for GB since Alain Baxter’s bronze in Salt Lake City – before then being stripped.
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Ryding gunning for Slalom silverware
As Dave Ryding approaches his third Winter Olympic Games in the far East, the hopes of not just a county but a nation are at their highest of ending a 16-year-wait for an alpine skiing podium finish in Pyeongchang.
The 31-year-old Slalom skier from Bretherton in Lancashire who learned his craft on the dry slopes of Pendle near his home town, is now amongst Team GB’s stronger medal hopes this coming fortnight, having finished 27th and 17th respectively in his last two Games.
As now a regular in the world’s top ten on the FIS World Cup circuit since last season, Ryding’s hopes are far from a pipe-dream in the present day, a testament to the Brit’s dedication and hard work that has been tirelessly been put in during recent years.
Europa Cup win; World progress
Having started out on the circuit with a ranking of 136 overall in 2013, the Lancastrian has steadily grown accustomed to the snowy alpine plane on the continent and broke into the top 100 in his second year of competition, after returning from injury the year before.
Securing his first Europa Cup title in Kranjska Gora in Slovenia that year, Ryding finished 17th in Sochi four years ago on the slope of Rosa Khutor in Russia, before later that December becoming the first Brit since Chemmy Alcott four years previously, to finish with World Cup points at Garmisch-Partenkirchen – also in 17th spot.
Reaching a career-high of 23 last year, a sixth-placed finish at Levi in Finland was followed by another top-ten result in Zagreb, before his season took flight, as Ryding hit the headlines with a stunning performance in Kitzbuhel.
Break-out podium in Austria
With a slalom ranking inside the world’s ten best slalom skiers of eighth his 2017 season was punctuated by a stunning second-placed finish behind the great Marcel Hirscher on the notorious Hahnenkamm.
After stunning the field to clock the fastest first run of all racers, Ryding went down the mountain last and finished in a remarkable second position (above), becoming only the fourth Briton to record an alpine World Cup podium after Konrad Bartelski, Gina Hathorn and Davina Galica.
Though this season has seen just the one top-ten finish on the calendar for the Chorley skier – with Ryding struggling to string two solid runs together back-to-back – his showing in Kitzbuhel is an encouraging sign for what could be to come at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre.
Can Ryding top the field?
Ryding is looking to emulate the man, who as he told Reuters regarding his role model in Alain Baxter, describes him as having been a constant factor in leading Ryding to ‘believe’ he too could stand on the rostrum at a Winter Games.
Baxter, after having had his Salt Lake City bronze medal taken away from him for discrepancies with his a positive sample from a drugs test – despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport having effectively cleared the athlete’s name – could now see retribution in the shape of Ryding.
The Lancashire man still sees Baxter as the man who could yet be directly responsible for a first slalom medal in 16 years of waiting, but after a season of mixed results can Ryding now take the final step to finish with a medal.
His biggest challenge may not lie against the red-hot favourite Hirscher for double gold in Pyeongchang, but against Scandinavian duo Henrik Kristofferson and Andre Myhrer, with Hirscher’s compatriot Michael Matt and Scottish-born Daniel Yule of Switzerland also in the running to name but five of his opponents for silverware.
The one factor in his favour perhaps is in his best result in Austria now just over 12 months ago. Having never completed two runs in Kitzbuhel in his previous attempts, the Briton will approach these games with little experience of Asian alpine competition – as will many of the competitors on show.
But that, may just swing the race in his favour in South Korea this month. A nation will be watching on with baited – and frozen – breath.
Dave Ryding will go in the Men’s Slalom on Thursday February 22nd at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre in Pyeongchang
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