Dave Ryding reflected on his “crazy” journey to the pinnacle of his sport after becoming the first British skier to win an alpine World Cup gold medal in Kitzbuhel on Saturday.
Three decades after starting his career on a 50-metre dry slope on a windswept hillside above Pendle in Lancashire, the 35-year-old is now established as a serious medal contender for next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Ryding rose from sixth place after the first run of the men’s slalom to finish 0.38 seconds clear of Norway’s Lucas Braathen in second place, sparking raucous celebrations among his support staff and the respect of the skiing world.
BRITAIN'S FIRST EVER ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP GOLD – laying down a marker for @Beijing2022 next month!
— GB Snowsport (@GBSnowsport) January 22, 2022
“It means more to me than anything when your peers and fellow competitors, whom you race against week in, week out, show their respect for what you’ve achieved,” said Ryding.
“This has never been done before by a Brit and they know how hard it is and where I’ve come from. Everybody knows my story now.”
Among those paying tribute was record-breaking American Mikaela Shiffrin, who described Ryding’s achievement as “amazing”, while the US Ski team hailed Ryding for his victory in “incredible fashion”.
Ryding’s win came one day after he was confirmed in the team for his fourth Winter Olympics in Beijing next month and will inevitably raise expectations, which the Briton is only too happy to embrace.
“You win a World Cup three weeks before the Olympics and it’s natural for everyone to talk,” said Ryding, whose ninth place in Pyeongchang in 2018 was the best result by a British alpine skier in an Olympics for 30 years.
“Obviously I’ve shown how good I am this year. The pressure and expectation has ramped up but I won’t be defined by an Olympics. I’ve had an amazing career and to win one has taken a weight off my shoulders.
“Who knows – two or three weeks still feels like a long way away. I’ll do my best to keep this old rig in tip-top shape.”
Ryding boasted previous success at Kitzbuhel, having become the first British alpine skier to reach a World Cup podium in 36 years when he took silver in the World Cup in 2017.
And he admitted his timely run underscored the fundamental change in attitude to British snow sports since his first Games in Vancouver in 2010, which started days after the sport’s then domestic governing body, Snowsport GB, was declared bankrupt.
This week the current and unconnected governing body, GB Snowsport, named a team of 18 skiers and three snowboarders for the Games, and Ryding hopes his success will prove a significant factor in the continued growth of the sport in the UK.
“The whole of the British winter sports scene has undergone a real revolution since my first Winter Olympics, and we’ve finally got to the stage where we have a strong federation,” added Ryding, whose own coffers will be bolstered by a 100,000 euros (£83,715) winner’s cheque from one of the most prestigious events on the alpine circuit.
He added: “For me the important thing is to see the the next generation coming through. You’re judged by what the next generation thinks of you, and we’re certainly not seen as a laughing stock anymore.
“If I can ignite a fire – I still remember watching Alain Baxter in Salt Lake City and the buzz and something inside me that said it was awesome. If I’ve had that effect on another little kid somewhere, then I’m doing my job.”