If you're a fan of ski racing in Park City, odds are you have a "Believe in Steven" button somewhere amidst your memorabilia. Maybe you even waved a "Believe in Steven" banner in the stands at Birds of Prey for his downhill podiums in 2006 and '07.
Last Saturday in the midst of a nasty blizzard at Val Gardena in the Italian Dolomites, it was time to dust them off.
Welcome back, Steven!
Steven Nyman grew up in Sundance, mowing lawns for Robert Redford and learning about speed by whipping down the slopes of Sundance every winter. He honed his racing skills with the Park City Ski Team, racing with Ted Ligety and TJ Lanning.
Downhillers are a different breed. They dream not of an Olympic medal but about winning on a classic run the Streif in Kitzbuehel, the Lauberhorn in Wengen, Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek, or the Saslong in Val Gardena.
That Saslong is nasty. At one point it pitches downward on a 56-degree slope. Jumps of over 100 feet are common. When your legs are aching and your mind is rushing, you hit the fabled Camel Bumps halfway down. You'd better clear 180 feet off the first bump or you're in trouble. If that's not enough, then you hit the Ciaslot a downhill terrain park with bumps that rock you to the core. Saturday's run was shortened due to weather, meaning every bump and every error was even more precious.
The weather here is never nice in December. And if it is, the sunshine will lull you into a false sense of security. When you hit the shade, you can't see a single bump.
Steven Nyman's name wasn't on any of the pre-race favorite lists last week going into Val Gardena. It had been four years since his last top ten, two seasons since he earned World Cup points. And it was six years ago nearly to the day that the then 24-year-old defied the odds and won on the Saslong.
Since then, Steven had checked off just about every medical problem a downhiller can face knees, back, and an Achilles last year. Through it all, he kept smiling and working out at the USSA Center of Excellence. He believed.
When he arrived in Selva Gardena last week, he believed. He knew he had the speed. He knew he could do it again.
Weather delayed the race for hours. As his No. 39 start number neared, the radio crackled. Coach TJ Lanning relayed a report from Marco Sullivan that the door was open. Then he heard that Slovenian Rok Perko had sneaked into the lead. As he looked down on the Saslong from the starting gate, he saw some of the fog clear. "Game on!"
Trucking down the piste at 70 mph, Nyman flew and flew and flew off the Camels. His Fischers were absolutely flying. He made a little mistake existing Ciaslot but kept it running. When he hit the finish and saw green on the scoreboard, he knew he was back.
Athletes get a lot of mileage out of belief. As he reflected on his win, Steven talked about his belief that he always had the speed. He talked about the knees, the back, the Achilles. But he never talked about giving up. For him, he looked at the past six years as a journey.
Steven, we've all enjoyed your journey. And we do believe!
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.