Dave Ryding – from dry beginnings.

imageFor those who do not know David’s background. He started racing at a young age and competed on the dry plastic slopes throughout the country in Summer League, Club Nationals and Grand Prix events, in fact one of his last plastic events was at the old dry slope at Hemel the year before it was closed to build the present Snow Dome. He raced against many Hemel members, he was not always the fastest and had to compete at the best of his ability.  For those that believe sking on snow is the only way, Dave has proved this wrong.

With thanks to Team Evolution for allowing us to reproduce their article on David Ryding, currently our best Alpine racer.

A big congratulations to Dave Ryding on his 6th place in Levi yesterday. However, despite the hyperbole and fanfare, we shouldn’t have need his first top 10 to recognise that this guy is the real deal for British skiing.

A couple of years ago, while at a major international event, I saw a British Team racer intentionally give up and miss the last few gates of a slalom, claiming they “couldn’t have possibly stayed in.”

I reference this because at the time of the competition this same athlete was crowd funding for support and sponsorship, claiming – and arguably rightly so – to be one of Great Britains best alpine talents, and this incident highlighted a point – that many British skiers care more about how their results or FIS Page appear, than the actual process of learning and achieving.

It might seem a cynical view, and certainly may be disputed by some, but it can also go some way to explaining the startling lack of success that the British Ski and Snowboard Team has seemed to have had in the 10 years between Daves result yesterday and Finlay’s equally impressive result in Wengen in 2006.

Most British athletes – although clearly not all, including Ryding, – come from more affluent backgrounds than those that have proven success is attainable without financial clout, like athletes in many other countries including Croatia and Slovakia. Yet we have continued to fail to produce athletes who perform at the highest level, with those falling short instead listing reasons why success is not possible rather than developing pathways to ensure success. If we have the money, why do we not produce results?

Of course, it’s easy for me to pinpoint a lack of passion, rather than finances, as the defining factor for our countries short comings – after all I am fortunate enough to work with athletes who, on the whole, do not have their programmes dictated by financial constraints.

However the blame for a lack of world class results until recently could as much be levelled at the lack of programmes that have been available for our National Team athletes, or the coaching structure, or the impact of too many races in the British calendar, or kids not being as active or countless other scenarios.

Regardless, whatever the core reasons for this startling lack of results over the past decade – and by the range of possible causes listed above, that really is a debate for another day – one thing is clear. Great Britain can hardly be described as over-achieving on the FIS Alpine World Cup Tour, and as such there has been an understandable lack of belief or recognition in the positive steps that some within the sport have made over the year.

But slowly and surely, away from the limelight and with a huge amount of support from unsung heroes like Tristan Glasse-Davies and Ali Morton, Noel Baxter and many many others, there are British skiers making steps. Not only Ryding, but Tilley, Brown, Raposo and Gower are doing us proud internationally. And proud people seem to have become. The outpouring of congratulations, shares, social media high fives and even recognition in the National Press after yesterday’s 6th place was greater than anything we have seen since Alain rightly claimed bronze in Salt Lake City.

The main reason for this of course is that people like to be associated with success. It doesn’t matter if it’s old school friends, past team mates, coaches that have crossed paths on the hill or ski clubs that Dave might have once skied a run of gates with. People see what Ryding is doing, the trajectory to success he is on and they want to be a part of that, largely because they feel they can connect with him and that he is one of them. His success is their success also, because he represents the skier in each and everyone of us, that little bit of something special added.

In an era of social media branding, online over promotion, Facebook pages for every 12 year old and self hyped self importance, Dave Ryding is refreshingly old school. Despite advice to the contrary, he is not big on social media, works with low key sponsors and has a tight knit circle that he keeps close. Always remembering his roots, growing up and grafting on Pendle dry slope training with his dad, Ryding has never once been afraid to speak positively of learning his basics on the artificial slopes, but has equally never overstated his own work ethic which is recognised across the World Cup as being second to none – certainly now Kostelic is on the way out.

This is a racer who has been earmarked for big things from the start – be it tucking through combinations on plastic or winning races at Hillend on borrowed gear through to clinching the EuropaCup Titles or chipping his way into the Worlds top 30 – he has achieved goal after goal, all while remaining low key and modest about his successes.

But why has Ryding managed to transcend all the pitfalls that have brought down so many of other GBR hopefuls of the past decade? Well, being fortunate enough to listen to Dave talk to trainees at the Team Evolution academy last year gave a further insight into who he is and how he thinks.

“I love skiing and I love working hard and improving. I plan to race for as long as I can. If I’m fit and healthy I’m going to keep racing, and when I’m finished racing I’m going to live out here and keep skiing.”

The passionately patriotic Pendle skier is therefore the antithesis to everything the stereotypical British skier represents, and perhaps sticking to the UK scene instead of going Full Time at a young age went some way towards keeping him balanced and grounded – although most who know him would credit his parents with that.

While most British Skiers talk about going “FullTime” because it means less time at school, for arising it was always about creating more time to train. While most would probably rather get their face in a glossy magazine than spend another week on a glacier or would rather go on holiday than head back into an indoor ski hall, you get the sense that Ryding savours and appreciates every moment in which he gets to click into his Fischers and practice another turn, knowing it takes him one step closer to his ultimate goals. Dave has often talked about how hard it was finding the funding to train, how he made up the sessions by doing what he could on the UK slopes, how much more challenging the FIS tour was without a technician or team mates, just him and Tristan, and it is well documented just how many days are spent on technical training split between Saas Fee and Wittenberg each summer, repeatedly going over drill till he gets everything right.

And for those reasons the perceptions usually associated with British skiers who threaten to achieve – financially well off, talented, but ultimately lazy – could not be further from the truth when talking about Ryding.

Dave is a genuine throwback to the training approach of Alain Baxter and Christan Swaiger, and while he does not like self-promotion, he will happily offer advice to others when asked and is willing to stand by his principles, all the while coming across as a genuinely decent person behind the quiet persona.

So while the congratulations for a fantastic result in Levi are justified, they should not be the real cause for celebration. The fact that in Ryding we have proof that we are able to produce athletes of a world class standard within this country, if those with the talent are prepared to work hard enough, is the real reason to celebrate.

Plus, there’s no reason to get over excited with a 6th place finish now. We’ve got a whole World Cup season, a World Champs and an Olympic Games coming up in the next 18months. And anyone who has seen Ryding set his mind to something and work towards it over the past 20 years would be very foolish to bet against him improving on this result now that he has the bit between his teeth and that extra degree of confidence. The plaudits may now start to come out of the woodwork like never before, but that’s not going to change a thing about how he goes about his job.

Congratulations Dave Ryding – Skier. Not just for a 6th place, but for all you have done to reach this point and for showing everyone else just what’s possible.

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