How Good Was Dave Ryding’s Victory?
24th January 2022 | Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Last modified on February 16th, 2022
The Rocket’s triumph in Kitzbühel was the first by a Brit in the 55-years of the Alpine World Cup. But you need to look behind the headlines to fully appreciate its historical and sporting significance.
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As we reported on Saturday, Dave Ryding’s win in the Austrian resort was phenomenal.
It was the pinnacle of a slalom career that began on a short strip of plastic in north west England when he was six.
Now a veteran ski racer at 35, Ryding has made it to the very top of his sport and onto the front pages.
And not just in the UK.
Ryding’s alpine training base is in Obergurgl in Austria and he has a legion of fans in the country.
He was a popular winner in Kitzbühel and the story has been given prominence in the Austrian media.
Ryding has, of course, been close before.
He has had three previous World Cup podiums.
The first of his career was when he won silver – also in Kitzbühel – five years ago.
The most recent was a bronze in Adelboden in January 2021.
But, still, there was astonishment that he could top the podium.
The headline in the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeiting, said it all.
“A Brit? A Brit!”
The newspaper described Kitzbühel as “probably the most difficult slalom slope in the World Cup”.
So let’s look at the context to find out just how big a deal this was.
By chance, Ryding’s victory coincided almost to the day with the 100th anniversary of the very first slalom race, which happened to be the brainchild of a Brit.
Sir Arnold Lunn decided to organise a race around flags in the Swiss resort of Mürren where the time it took for the skiers to get round the poles and down the course was all that mattered.
And the early British skiing pioneers were successful.
Long before the World Cup was inaugurated and 91 years before Ryding triumphed, Gordon Cleaver topped the podium at the first Kitzbühel Hahnenkamm races.
Cleaver, who went on to be a fighter pilot in the Second World War, won the Combined and came second in slalom in 1931.
“The British were so important in establishing the early popularity of skiing, especially racing,” the Kitzbühel Ski Club President Michael Huber said in 2006.
“He was the reason the Hahnenkamm became an international event, which never would have happened if a local had won.”
Since the Alpine World Cup was established in 1967, other British skiers have attempted to win.
Konrad Bartelski came close, winning silver at the Val Gardena downhill in 1981 – the best British result until it was matched by Ryding’s second place in 2017.
He is one of Ryding’s biggest fans.
This is how he assessed his victory in a post on social media after the race.
“Today Dave was the winner of the equivalent of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, Wimbledon Tennis or the Masters or the Open Golf. Kitzbühel is the most prestigious ‘Major’ on the World Cup circuit.”
The significance was even greater than that, according to Ashley Bartlett, whose comment on Bartelski’s post referred to Ryding’s humble beginnings on the Pendle dry slope.
“It’s like winning the Masters having grown up playing crazy golf, winning Wimbledon after playing mostly on tarmac or winning the Monte Carlo GP after mostly driving dodgems… it’s that fantastic.”
The great American skier, Mikaela Shiffrin, who has won 73 World Cup races in her career so far, told Eurosport she was astounded and impressed by Ryding’s skiing, but also not surprised.
“That’s such a special achievement to come from his background skiing on plastic and prove that you can reach the top even if you didn’t grow up in a powerhouse ski racing country. He inspired a ton of little racers today.”
Martin Bell, the GB former ski racer who finished 8th in the downhill at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, described Ryding’s win as “a triumph that all can take pride in. Everyone in the British ski industry, every coach and volunteer at every artificial ski slope up and down the land.”
All those people Martin Bell refers to no doubt hoped and believed a British skier, who didn’t race train on real snow until he was 14, could beat those who were born in the mountains.
Now they know it’s possible.
At last Dave Ryding’s fame extends beyond the relatively small world of snowsports and it could well inspire a younger generation.
Kids thinking about heading to their local slope for the first time; up-and-coming World Cup racers such as Billy Major and Laurie Taylor.
“I was inspired by Alain and hopefully there’s another little kid out there – or Billy and Laurie – you know, to see it’s possible, it’s doable,” Ryding said in a BBC interview just after he was presented with his trophy.
“It’s not easy, it takes time, it takes a lot of graft but, yeah, you can do it.”
‘Alain’ is Alain Baxter, the British skier who won slalom bronze at the 2022 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, only to have it withdrawn.
He failed a drugs test after using an over-the-counter inhaler containing a banned substance. Although he was cleared of cheating his disqualification stood.
Ryding has always looked up to Baxter, who deserves some of the credit for his work behind the scenes.
In 2021 he joined GB Snowsport as a high-performance coach for the Alpine World Cup Team.
The biggest unsung hero, though, is another Brit – Ryding’s coach, Tristan Glasse-Davies.
He has been with the British number one for many years.
As Konrad Bartelski said in another of his comments at the weekend: “Who said there was anything wrong with British Alpine Ski Racing?”
Dave Ryding will compete at the Schladming night slalom World Cup on Tuesday.
Then he’s off to his fourth – and possibly last – Winter Olympics in Beijing.
All those years ago when his dream was simply to make it into the Top 30 in the world rankings, he could surely never have imagined going to an Olympics with a real chance of winning.
It’s a big ask but, if all the stars align for him, who’s to say it couldn’t happen?
Dave Ryding is among the team of 21 skiers and snowboarders selected to represented GB at the Beijing Winter Olympics. They take place between 4th and 20th February with the Paralympics a month later from 4th to 13th March.
MAIN PHOTO: Dave Ryding competes in Kitzbühel, 22 January 2022 – © Juergen Klecha