Portugal Colonial - Dodging sheep poo to slalom star: Ryding's unlikely Olympic journey

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Dodging sheep poo to slalom star: Ryding's unlikely Olympic journey
Dodging sheep poo to slalom star: Ryding's unlikely Olympic journey

Dodging sheep poo to slalom star: Ryding's unlikely Olympic journey

British skier Dave Ryding's route to the men's Olympic slalom on Wednesday is anything but conventional -- he learned to ski while dodging sheep droppings on a dry slope in northwest England.

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But the 35-year-old finds himself in the unlikely position of being one of the main contenders for a medal at the Beijing Games, on the back of a historic World Cup victory in Kitzbuehel last month he described as "nuts".

His shock win in Austria was Britain's first on the circuit, a timely boost for a racer who has truly experienced the ups and downs of a career that has come a long way from that dry slope in Pendle, Lancashire.

"It didn’t used to have fences around it and it’s on a hill and it’s full of sheep," Ryding said.

"Sometimes the sheep would run across as you were training and you would have to wait for them.

"They would just wander across and do their business when we weren’t there.

"A rainy night and you would get a lot of splatters. It was horrible."

Ryding didn't start ski race training on snow until he was 21. Rarely can there have been such an inauspicious start to a skiing career, but the Briton did not allow that to deter him.

- Smashing through ceiling -

A World Cup regular from 2009, it was only in 2012 that he registered his first top-30 finish. It was another four seasons before he achieved a first World Cup podium place, also in Kitzbuehel.

Ryding said there had not been a season where he has not "shed a tear at some point in exhaustion or fatigue of trying".

Beijing is his fourth Olympics, the slalom specialist having finished 27th at the 2010 Vancouver Games, 17th in Sochi four years later and ninth in Pyeongchang in 2018.

His World Cup victory in the Austrian resort in January, however, was like smashing "my head through a ceiling which I had been smashing on for some time".

Following that win, Ryding demanded that British ski officials do more to secure funding for the next generation.

"I’ve always said it’s possible. You just have to work hard and you can get better year by year and you can do it," he said.

Fourteen different racers have made the podiums this winter, making the slalom one of the most open races in recent history.

Ryding is one of five winners of the six slaloms held on the World Cup so far this season, along with France's Clement Noel, Norway's reigning world champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, Swiss Lucas Braathen, Germany's Linus Strasser and Austria's Johannes Strolz.

The versatile Strolz is aiming for a second gold in Beijing having already won the alpine combined title.

Giuliani Razzoli, the Italian who won gold 12 years ago in Vancouver, can also not be ruled out.

Frenchman Noel said: "It's crazy, I don't have the feeling that the level is more concrete or better than last year, but the races are bonkers, without any hierarchy."

C.Cassis--PC