It takes something special to ski downhill,
where gravity is harnessed and worked overtime in the pursuit of milliseconds,
and slopes of snow are replaced with walls of ice. Winning World Cup races, or competing
in multiple Olympic games, takes something even more extraordinary and it’s
easy to understand why few skiers remain at that level for long. But for Steven
Nyman, who has held his place firmly amongst the world’s downhill elite for
more than a decade, it’s about a life of progression.
Growing up and skiing on a small mountain
in Sundance, Utah, a life of racing slalom was as natural as the surrounding
summits, and at twenty years old Steven announced his presence on the skiing
world, winning the Junior World Champs, followed soon after with a fifteenth
position in his World Cup slalom debut. Thanks for skateboarding, however,
slalom soon made way to downhill and speed.
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— It’s an odd turn of events, but I broke
my leg skateboarding, and as I was getting back to skiing, the quick slalom
turns started to impact on my ankle, so I decided to try some more downhill
instead. Luckily I was pretty good at it, which seems to stem from the little
hill I grew up on as there’s a distinct front and back to the mountain there,
with a flat area in between. As a kid I had to figure out how to go fast on
that area as I wanted to keep up with the college racers and the big guys on
the team. It’s from that little plateau that I must have developed my gliding
skills, which is funny as I now have one of the best glides in the world.
Being at the pinnacle of any sport for so
many years is tough, requiring a mental and physical strength, that can be hard
to sustain, but for Nyman the constant questioning and willingness to seek out
new ways to improve has not only helped is racing, but his perspective on many
other things too.
— I started my World Cup tour with some
good energy. I was fifteenth in my first slalom race, and in my first year as a
downhill racer I came in fourth, followed the year after by my first win. It
was a fast rise to the top, everything happened quickly and I had a lot of
fire, so I said yes to everything, “Let’s try this!”, “Wow, that’s cool!”. But
once all these opportunities opened up I stretched myself, saying yes to
everything. In the end I ended up with a lot of injuries and other issues to
deal with. Today it’s different, and with age I’ve learned to say no, and how
to stay at the top consistently. I feel more comfortable skiing now, as it’s no
longer skiing on pure guts and energy and taking lots of risks. Now I have a
greater understanding of skiing and I’m more calculated, especially in
training, which is still very hard, but a lot smarter, such as trying to get
better at performing under fatigue, which is a big part of a race run.
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For many competitive athletes, winning is
the only thing that matters. Everything else is secondary to being able to step
up to the top step, and it doesn’t really matter how it was achieved. For
others, like Nyman, it is the goal, but performance takes on a broader
— I know I can win and I know I can compete with all the top guys. But I can’t control the competition, I can only control myself. So I want to remain focused on my run, the picture I want to paint and creating the internal conviction about my abilities, that this is what I need to do and this is what I’m going to do. Sometimes I’ve done that, and I’ve won. Sometimes I’ve done that and I’ve been second or third, but I’ve crossed the finish line knowing that’s what I set out to do. And that’s what I’m proud of doing because that was my vision.
Living life in the fast lane, literally,
downhill skiers need to have a feeling, almost a relationship, to speed. But if
they fall for it too much, the odds are that it will eventually hurt them.
Steven may have taken risks in his youth but his love for speed has not faded.
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— I enjoy speed. But that’s something that
has developed through years of development. We’re not adrenaline junkies. We’re
not crazy. This is something that’s calculated and which has been built up over
time. The foundation comes from being a five-year-old and skiing the local ski
hill, getting ever stronger year after year.
After a decade of elite racing, and
following the birth of his daughter a couple of years ago, it would be fair to
assume the hunger to win was easing, but it’s still there, as strong as ever.
But with a perspective that it cannot be achieved at any cost.
— Racing downhill is something I worked
hard for my entire life. This is where I make my living and I am proud to be
one of the best in the world. Naturally, I want to keep pushing down that path,
as that is the one I have forged. But then there are the times I get so much
enjoyment out of being with my daughter; I know I never want to end but I also
see the balance that I need to strike so I can have an active life with her,
unhindered by knee replacements or other injuries. But I believe that you have
to push the limits in several ways to make you feel like you’re living. That is
life, and I guess that’s what hasn’t changed; life is about progression.
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