SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy – Steven Nyman usually enters Val Gardena with a confident swagger and victory in his sights.
After all, the 6-foot-4 American has won the Saslong Classic downhill three times – his only three wins on the World Cup circuit.
This year, though, Nyman is skiing with a brace on his surgically repaired left knee. He’s making his season debut and plans to race for the first time since crashing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, last season.
“Really no expectations,” Nyman said ahead of Saturday’s race. “It’s all about comfort right now. And my comfort level is better here. It’s higher and obviously I like it here and I can use this as a stepping stone or a launch pad to gain more confidence.”
With one more win, Nyman would match Austrian legend Franz Klammer and Italy’s Kristian Ghedina with a record four downhill wins on the Saslong. The race is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“If I link everything together I can do well,” he said.
The 35-year-old Nyman tore three ligaments in his crash.
“It’s a very severe injury. So it takes time. And we’re obviously in a time crunch with the Olympics,” Nyman said, looking ahead to the Pyeongchang Games in February.
In the Olympic test event in South Korea two seasons ago, Nyman finished third in the downhill. He would like to be free of the knee brace by then.
“It doesn’t allow me to glide the way I want to glide. It doesn’t allow me to move the way I want to move,” Nyman said.
With his knee in mind, Nyman sat out races on home snow in Beaver Creek, Colorado, this month, and he will also skip the next downhill in Bormio to rest up for the January classics in Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Meanwhile, a few younger Americans impressed in downhill training this week.
Jared Goldberg and Wiley Maple placed 1-2 in Wednesday’s opening training and Bryce Bennett was ninth.
Goldberg approached Nyman for advice during the week.
“He was just like, ‘Hey, talk to me. I want to learn some stuff from you.’ Which was cool,” Nyman said. “And I just yapped with him and told him this is what you got to do.
“And then to watch him just send it was awesome.”
The U.S. speed team’s slow start – their best finish in the Beaver Creek downhill was Bennett in 21st while Travis Ganong finished 17th in Friday’s super-G in Val Gardena – has been attributed to pushing too hard in preseason training under new coach John McBride.
McBride, who helped Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves find success, recently returned to the team after a stint with Canada.
“We were exhausted coming into the season, which is not ideal. Johno pushed us really hard. With a new coach you want to impress,” Ganong said. “We’re kind of playing catch up now.”
“Double sessions, spinning, gym – we just did way too much,” Ganong added.
Val Gardena, however, perfectly suits the team’s strengths, especially Nyman and the 6-foot-7 Bennett, whose best career results were sixth and eighth on the Saslong over the last two years.
Bennett’s background in BMX racing gives him a big advantage going over all the terrain on the Saslong’s bumpy ciaslat section.
“The ciaslat is definitely my wheel house,” Bennett said. “BMX racing is all about how well you can anticipate and work terrain and use it to your advantage to create speed. ... I make that big right turn entering ciaslat and I’m like, ‘Game on, I got this.’”