Spectator sport

Why everyone should be shouting about Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

As we digest another Ashes thrashing for England’s cricketers in Australia, and wonder whether the 1966 World Cup victory will forever be the solitary success for one of Britain’s national football teams, the triumphs of individual Brits continue to astound.

In the past year GB punched well above its weight in finishing fourth in the Olympic medals table with 22 golds, mostly in individual events. Teenager Emma Raducanu rocked the world with her out-of-nowhere win at the US Open tennis, though she is beginning to need a reset now. And then last weekend, even more extraordinarily still, came Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding’s amazing made-in-Lancashire gold medal in the showpiece Kitzbühel World Cup slalom in Austria.

It is hard to overstate what an achievement this was, and how much it should be celebrated. Ryding is the first British skier to win a gold in the 55-year-history of the Alpine World Cup, an amazing triumph for someone who comes from what is basically a snow-free country. At 35 he was the oldest winner of a slalom too.

He grew up in the small Lancashire village of Bretherton, the son of a market trader and a hairdresser. He first tried out skis at the age of six, on the plastic at his local dry slope at Pendle. He didn’t ski on snow until he was 12 but his competitive talent and natural flair were already clear. By the age of 13 he had been selected for the English Schools team and he started training with Britain’s elite Kandahar ski racing club at 15.

It all culminated in that ferocious second run at Kitz. The slalom is the most technical of skills, requiring elegance, precision and athleticism, where a few millimetres make the difference between success and failure. At its best, say the racers, it’s like dancing through the gates.

For Cleeves Palmer, former president of the Kandahar, who has known Ryding for years, it was a monumental moment. ‘This was a day I have often dreamed of,’ he says. ‘I’m so pleased for him and what it should do for British skiing. He is very popular, charming and self-deprecating. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He talked about his win as if he had won a prize at the local fete. He really is a gentle man and a gentleman, incredibly modest and thoughtful.’

Ryding is liked and admired on the highly competitive ski circuit, and every fan’s second favourite skier after their own national hero. Shirley Stevens, a leading trainer who introduced Ryding to the Kandahar, described first seeing him on snow at 15. ‘He had done a lot of racing on plastic, but when I saw him on snow in Flaine I realised he could really ski fast. I got the organisers to allow him to forerun the races, and wow, did he fly! He’s still the same modest, hard-working and dedicated athlete he was as a teenager. He deserves all the success that comes his way.’

Ryding is the man who never gave up. And now he is heading for the controversial Winter Olympics in Beijing, his fourth Games, where he will be in with a shot of a podium in this blue-riband discipline. There can’t be a skier in Britain who doesn’t wish him well.

Pity poor old Bath, who got soundly pilloried after being beaten out of sight by Leinster in rugby’s Champions Cup. Bath are the worst side in the Premiership and are riddled with injuries to their best players. Leinster would get to the semi-finals of the World Cup, if they could enter. They would smash a Rest of Ireland XV and give the All Blacks a good game. They are ridiculously good. Who will finish one place above Italy in the Six Nations? My guess is Wales. The red bubble seems to have burst and there aren’t many youngsters coming through. They would lose to Leinster.

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