Age is more than a number for the oldest of the world’s top 20 male slalom skiers - it’s the story of how he bloomed late, got to the summit of his sport and stayed there.
Ryding started on a dry slope in Pendle, Lancashire and didn’t ski heavily as early in life as his Swiss and Austrian rivals, who were on sticks as soon as they could walk. The Rocket was fashionably late to the world’s top table - he got there aged 28 - and feels he’s still reaping the rewards of that arc.
“I’m 34. But I feel good, and I’m still here,” said Ryding, who is able to train full-time, access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding.
“Coming to the top later means my motivation is still right up there.
“I trained my whole life to get into the top 30 in the world and now I’m there, so why not carry on. I’ve learned how to be committed and now it’s a way of life. I get up some mornings and can’t be arsed to go to the gym - but I just roll out of the door and I never miss a session.
“In my twenties, I didn’t go out partying. I’ve always done my training and I think that does pay off in later life. I’m doing better numbers in the gym and running than I’ve ever done. I get the odd joke about being the old guy, don’t get me wrong, but I enjoy that as well!”
Three World Cup podium places and three Olympic Games later, Ryding is still proving people wrong.
Last season, the Brit won bronze in January’s Adelboden slalom and then struggled with a serious back problem, missing five weeks of training and stymying his momentum.
The end of the season was a nightmare but he came back to summer training with a spring in his step and for the first time in ten years - training partners. Ryding now trains with young British skiers Billy Major, who won his first Europa Cup race in 2021, and PyeongChang Olympian Laurie Taylor. At 24 and 25, the pair are several years his junior and by the sounds of it, keeping him young.
“They’re at a level now where they’re ready to step up - it’s good to see and it’s what British skiing needs,” said Ryding.
“It brings a whole new vibe - just going to training, if I’m feeling a bit tired and see one of them up for it and motivated, it’s game on. I did ten years on my own, which has worked, but it means the tough days are tough and there’s nowhere to hide. Now it’s easier to bring energy up and get back out there.”
Preparing for a fourth Olympics, Ryding has dropped ten places at each Games - 27th at his first Olympics at Vancouver 2010, 17th at Sochi 2014 and ninth in PyeongChang.
Slalom racing at the Olympics is the ultimate lottery, and there is no opportunity to race the Beijing piste before February.
So what is Dave Ryding expecting of himself?
“I don’t define myself by the Olympics but I would love to cap it off with a good Olympic result,” said Ryding, who is bidding to add to the 189 National Lottery-funded Olympic and Paralympic medals scooped in Tokyo this year.
“I don’t take the World Cup as any less than the Olympics, I treat every race as my Olympics and do or die, life or death. Thinking about it that probably isn’t the best thing, because you put too much pressure on yourself!
“When I’m feeling good, I don’t feel pressure because I’m expecting to do well. But you can’t be at your best for the whole season and you’re going to have dips. When you’re in a bit of a dip, things aren’t going right and you’re not feeling perfect on your skis, people on social media are talking about wins and podiums.
“It’s not realistic and that’s when it’s hard. I can’t say to every single person that I’m in a lull, I need to figure something out and we can go again.
“I’ve just got to go in the start gate and go again, because that’s what all the top skiers do.”
No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies