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'I had rocket ships on': Self-funded US skier Steven Nyman wins Gardena downhill for 3rd time

12/19/2014 09:00 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST
VAL GARDENA, Italy - With performances like this, Steven Nyman should have no problem regaining his funding from the U.S. Ski Team.

He may even find a helmet sponsor, too.

Nyman showed off his complete mastery of the Saslong course by winning a World Cup downhill at the classic venue on Friday for the third time.

The 32-year-old Nyman has never won a World Cup race anywhere else, and he had the added pressure of entering as a favourite after leading Wednesday's only training run.

"That was the part that impressed me the most," U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick said. "Having to sleep on that two nights. That was cool. He had a great attitude yesterday, kept things real simple and did what it takes. ... It's a real tribute to an older guy learning new things."

After failing to finish higher than 19th in any race last season, Nyman slipped to the U.S. squad's "B'' team for this season, meaning he had to pay $20,000 out of his own pocket to race the World Cup.

"This definitely will help," Nyman said after collecting the winner's check of 28,500 euros ($35,000). "And if I keep killing it the price (of a potential helmet sponsor) keeps going up."

The only skier who came even close to challenging Nyman was Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who won the opening two downhills this season. He finished 0.31 seconds behind in the run of nearly two minutes, while Dominik Paris of Italy was third, 1.15 back.

"A lot of people were looking at me going like, 'Oh, you're the favourite.' They were trying to get in my head," Nyman said. "But I just tried to stay focused."

Manuel Osborne-Paradis of North Vancouver, B.C., was the top Canadian in 16th place.

Nyman's other wins came in 2006 and 2012, between which he struggled with a series of injuries. He entered in solid form this time following a third-place result in Beaver Creek, Colorado, this month.

"There's no reason why he shouldn't be on the podium on other hills, too" said downhill coach Alex Hoedlmoser, who moved over to the men's team for this season after guiding Lindsey Vonn on the women's circuit. "With his self-confidence now that can go a long ways."

Coming down with the No. 7 bib, Nyman pumped his fists and made a bow to the crowd after seeing his time. Then he had to wait as the top-ranked skiers came down. One by one, they failed to catch him, and Nyman's smile grew wider until he could finally celebrate.

"When I came across the finish I was like, 'Oh, that was almost too easy and smooth and I didn't know if it was any good,'" Nyman said. "But then I saw the time."

Jansrud moved back atop the overall standings, 52 points ahead of technical specialist Marcel Hirscher of Austria. The Norwegian also remained atop the downhill standings, while Nyman moved into second, 105 points behind.

"I don't feel like I lost it," said Jansrud, the Olympic bronze medallist in downhill. "(Nyman) is just consistently fast here. He was better today."

Florian Scheiber of Austria crashed and was airlifted off the course by helicopter to a hospital in Bolzano. He was diagnosed with a concussion, had bruises on his left shoulder, side and hip, and cuts to his face.

Olympic super-G bronze medallist Jan Hudec of Calgary, the first skier on course, hurt his right knee while landing the huge camel jump, which launched skiers into the air nearly the full distance of a football field.

"It's always a risk with No. 1 — you're kind of a guinea pig," Hudec said.

Hudec suffered a bone bruise in his knee and will not race in Saturday's super-G, Alpine Canada said on Twitter.

The jumps were bigger than usual this year because there was so little snow on the course.

Little more than a week ago, the course didn't have any snow. But organizers were able to create a white stripe down the middle of a brown forest in three days by using 65 snow guns to fire 80,000 cubic meters of the artificial white stuff along the 3.5-kilometre (2-mile) course.

"Compliments to Gardena for pulling this off," Nyman said. "It's a miracle they got this race in."

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Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf

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With files from The Canadian Press.

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