WORDS: Eugene Buchanan
Hometown: Sundance, Utah
Olympic discipline: Downhill
Career achievements: 1st place, 2012 World Cup Val Gardena Downhill; 1st place, 2006 World Cup Val Gardena Downhill; Two-time Olympian (2010, 2006); Two-time National Downhill Champion (2005, 2003)
For two-time Olympian and speed specialist Steven Nyman, who learned to ski at age 2 from his mom while his dad ran the ski school at Utah's Sundance Mountain Resort, his Achilles heel in Sochi could literally be his Achilles heel. While training in the fall of 2011 in Copper Mountain, Colorado, he crashed and tore his Achilles, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Despite the setback, he's now fully recovered, as evidenced by his winning a World Cup downhill gold in 2012 in Val Gardena, Italy. Plus, the downtime let him launch fantasyskiracer.com, a skiing version of fantasy football, and test his announcing chops at the Beaver Creek World Cup and Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Winter Park – to which his coaches attest he might want to stick to the slopes.
The crash wasn't anything spectacular, just a dumb fall in an awkward position. I hit a rut and did the splits and a somersault going about 70 mph with both legs hyper-extended. When I started skiing back down it felt like my foot was straight up and down in my boot.
It took six months of rehab until I could ski again and I'm almost back to being normal. When I tore it I could dunk a basketball. When I started rehab I couldn't even push my heel off the ground. But I've gained the majority of my strength and can almost dunk again. Maybe Kobe should give me a call?
I made it onto the ski team as a slalom skier but in my second year I won the National Downhill title. I love slalom, but when you're off it's the worst feeling in skiing. In Downhill, even if you have a bad run you always have fun. You always get to scare yourself and push yourself to the limit.
Speed comes naturally to me. I think it's from all my freeskiing and powder skiing around Utah.
I think Sochi is a great course for me. It has a very technical top section, opens up to a fast open turn section, and then the bottom is all about big air. I'm pretty good in the air and like the high speeds. It's also a long course and I have great endurance.
It will take endurance, concentration, a daring spirit, and, most of all, confidence to win in Sochi. You need to see what you need to do and believe you can do it. The stage is different because the whole world is watching and you're invaded with many different thoughts. You need to remain focused on you—not the media, other racers, or crowd.
My family is a major reason I am where I am today. My three brothers pushed me to get to my current level. My mom taught us how to ski and my dad taught us how to race. We grew up in a great situation that I wouldn’t trade for anything. We were one of the first families to live year-round up on the mountain.
I started FantasySkiRacer.com three years ago with the help of my brother, Michael, and my friend Peter Rugh. The motive was to help create a better connection between fans and racers. I think we lack that. The FIS is archaic with their ability to promote the sport properly and to portray what we do as racers.
Emceeing the Bird of Prey events was a ton of fun. But I was nervous. It felt like the beginning of a ski race. I had to prepare, know my stuff, and be entertaining. I also had to look out for some of the guys. They're my friends and I didn’t want to offend anyone. I definitely let some stuff slip that I shouldn’t have.
I'm aiming for the gold in Sochi. It's my third Olympics and I've learned a lot from the past two. I'm feeling more fit than I have in years and feel balanced and fast.