In a typical downhill race, Steven Nyman takes around two heart-pounding minutes to glide his way through the finish.
Better carve out at least five heart-filled minutes for him in Aspen, Colorado, on Saturday. The 41-year-old American ski racer plans to take his sweet time on his final — and leisurely — downhill run before retirement.
World Cup start No. 214 will be like no other for Nyman, complete with him wearing a comfortable pair of jeans instead of a speed suit. Along with it, a sleeveless denim vest that’s been decorated over the years by the “American Downhiller” crew. There will be frequent stops, too, for hugs and fist bumps with friends, coaches, competitors and anyone else who wants one (he’s expected to race during a TV break to not interfere with other racers).
The emotions will only build the closer he gets to the finish, where his time and place take a back seat to embracing his family.
“I’ve loved every second of it — through the ups and the downs, through the injuries and the victories,” Nyman told The Associated Press in a phone interview ahead of his “retirement party” as the men’s World Cup circuit makes a stop in Aspen this weekend. “I’ve lived an incredible ski life.”
His mom, Becky, taught him — and his three brothers — how to ski on the slopes at Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah. His dad, Scott, taught him how to race. The family didn’t have cable television, so the mountains became his entertainment.
And keeping up was his mission.
As a kid, Nyman chased after the members of the BYU ski racing team, just to see if he could.
Spoiler alert: He could.
That was thanks to his self-taught gliding style — his way to uncover that little bit of hidden speed through the less steep sections. It’s an ability that would help him throughout his career even if, at 6-foot-4, he was rather tall for a downhill racer.
Case in point: Val Gardena, Italy, the site of all three of his World Cup downhill victories. Or his other eight podium finishes, including a stretch in 2016 when he wound up on four downhill podiums in a row.
U.S. ski team speed coach Randy Pelkey has come full circle with Nyman. He was one of his first coaches more than two decades ago — back when Nyman was “just this fearless guy that was a little bit gangly,” Pelkey said with a laugh. “But he became this physical specimen and the results just went through the roof.”
Seeing teammates succeed brought just as much satisfaction for Nyman.
An illustration: Sidelined since December with a shattered right hand, Nyman hasn’t been able to compete with his squad. But before the January downhill races in Kitzbuehel, Austria, he sent an email to the team, wishing them luck and offering advice.
Jared Goldberg took fourth in one of the races, and Travis Ganong ended up third in another, becoming the first American to earn a podium in the downhill at the famed venue since Bode Miller in 2014.
“To be that kind of teammate from 6,000 miles away, that was incredibly cool,” Pelkey said. “He’s a true team player, and world-class skier.”
One of Nyman’s most prized possessions while growing up was a VHS recording of the 1992 Albertville Olympics. He was mesmerized by Kjetil André Aamodt of Norway winning the super-G and fascinated by AJ Kitt taking ninth in the downhill for the red, white and blue. Another tape given to him was of the 1994 Lillehammer Games, where Tommy Moe won Olympic gold in the downhill.
“That’s what inspired me,” said Nyman, who was named to four Olympic teams but was injured for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “I remember being like, ‘I want to do that.’”
His first World Cup start was a slalom in 2002, when he finished 3.64 seconds behind Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Nyman was in the field that day with some of his idols, including Miller.
Nyman was always comfortable around big names. After all, he mowed the lawn of Robert Redford, the star of the 1969 movie “Downhill Racer.” Nyman thought Miller and Daron Rahlves, another iconic American downhiller, were just cool teammates and soaked in anything they taught him.
In a retirement speech, Nyman wrote: “I am happy with my achievements. I experienced levels I only dreamt of as a kid.”
He leaves the game with his share of scars, including two Achilles tears, two major knee injuries and breaks in both legs. The latest setback with his shattered hand— “looked like Rice Krispies,” he cracked — finally convinced him that he was done.
Not because he had lost speed, though. Last summer, he was keeping up with the younger racers in training camp. No, it’s because of nagging ailments like his back going out. The dangers of reaching speeds up to 100 mph (161 kph) down icy hills was risky enough.
He’s been in “dad mode” since the injury, hanging out with his partner, Charlotte, and their two young daughters. He’s been skiing powder and enjoying the good life.
He’s ready for more days like that.
“I gave it everything,” said Nyman, whose future endeavors include coaching and a business school program through Dartmouth College. “It’s been an incredible ride.”
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