Europa Cup heartbreak: 24 Hours of Steve Nyman


Europa Cup heartbreak: 24 Hours of Steve Nyman{mosimage}Steve Nyman is one of the U.S. Ski Team’s most exciting young prospects. He blazed onto the team out of nowhere in 2002, a laid-back powder skier from Utah who relied on a natural feel for the snow. Earlier this week, Nyman won a two-run Europa Cup downhill at Altenmarkt, Austria, then went out the next day and broke his leg in an ugly crash on the same course.

Nyman jumped straight out of domestic racing onto the U.S. Ski Team’s B Team when he won the slalom at World Junior Championships, qualifying for World Cup Finals and finishing in the top seed there.

He was the Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year that year, then went on to spend most of the 2003-2004 season crashing and washing out on icy Europa Cup surfaces. Last March, however, he salvaged some of the season’s promise by winning the downhill at U.S. National Championships in Lake Placid, New York.

Nyman’s win at Altenmarkt gave an emotional boost to the A Team coaches, who were an hour away in Kitzbuehel, spread out along the treacherous Streifalm course, waiting for the fog to clear for a training run to get underway. The news came over the radio from the head coach Phil McNichol, who had received a text message from his head Europa Cup coach Thomas Erhard.

Ski Racing caught up with Erhard two days later, and got the full story on an emotional 24 hours:

‘It broke our hearts. It was 24 hours that broke our hearts. Steve’s been working really hard, and all the coaches have this secret spot in their heart. To see him go from winning a Europa Cup in Austria, which is big — to win a race like that in Altenmarkt is one of the best accomplishments a kid that age can have — and then to break his leg the next day, it broke our hearts. Definitely brought us down. But Steve deserves that win, and all the credit that goes with it.

‘The win was a two-run downhill. He skied the first run, he was in seventh-place. About seven tenths out. This guy on the Austrian team skied amazing and beat everyone by a half second, and then there were a bunch of guys stacked in tight. Second run, Steve figured out all the mistakes he’d made the first run and he killed everyone. In the turns, he dominated the field. He won that run by so much that he not only made up the seven tenths, but he won the overall by two tenths. He really killed it.

‘The run required both timing and gliding. It was very aggressive and risky, and it was technically sound. Perfect. It had to be technically good because the trail weaves this way and that through the woods. You couldn’t mis-time a turn. Your timing had to be good and the turns had to be clean. Then the bottom was this big open meadow, and you had to be a good glider. And I must say, a big thing too was Pam Warman’s skis. That definitely mattered. They were all running really fast. All the guys she tunes were right in there.

‘The win felt good, but that whole pain of the injury felt worse. The next day, he was skiing really well. He had such confidence from the win. There was more of a rut now because that run had been skied six times now. There was this rut in this difficult compression, and he didn’t hold back. And he went into it with a little bit too much heat.

‘He broke his tibia. A horizontal fracture with a little bit of lateral displacement. Today it swelled up a bit. The concern they have is compartment syndrome. It’s when the swelling within the muscle sheath gets so big that they have to go in and cut it. That can slow down the healing process a lot. It can also open up opportunities for infection. They’re just going to monitor it and if that does happen they can deal with it.

‘His doctor is Dr. Schwartz, one of the guys on Hermann Maier’s team. I believe he worked with Alison Powers last year. The surgery was at the Unfall-Krankenhaus in Salzburg, and they did a great job. He’ll be able to fly home by Tuesday or Wednesday.

‘The thing is, it seems like he was about to make a big breakthrough. He’s very hot and cold. He’s not totally confident in his abilities yet. That comes with experience. Once he gains that, he’s going to perform all the time. He still sometimes searches here and there for the right thing to do.

‘He skis like Bode. The first year that I worked with Nyman was the year I got off the team and worked at Park City. The first time I saw him ski slalom, Bode was the first guy I thought of. He has this magic touch that Bode has. He has this feel for the making the skis go fast. I saw that in slalom, back then, and that was like two years before he won the world juniors in slalom. And that’s exactly what I thought: This guy’s like Bode.

‘I think he was more technically sound than Bode was at that age. He probably was. But I’ve worked with him and he’s really got a long way to go just to get his pole plant down and some basic things. That’s the main thing we’ve been working on from July on. At first I was going be really aggressive in making him do it. Then I realized we should start there and see what kind of an impact we can have. And if we could prove to him that he could ski with a pole plant, he could finish a lot more, because he didn’t finish anything last year. Until he won the National Championship downhill, which highlights his talent.

‘He’s good in soft stuff. Altenmarkt wasn’t soft. The training runs were, and the day he won the race, the first run was. But the second run was hard. It got down to the hard snow. It was rutty. So far I’ve not seen real strong performance from him in that. That’s where he went out: In a rut.

‘He went into a compression that had a rut. I haven’t seen the video yet because I’ve been really busy since this whole thing happened. Once he came in there he got rocked back and then his legs split and he got spinned around and it just snapped. The right leg.

‘The doc was there. At first he wasn’t claiming pain or anything like that. Then the doc put his hand down into the boot — it was down below the boot-line — and he asked if Steve had ever had a bump down there, and Steve said no, and that’s when he knew right away it was a fracture.

‘His spirits are good. He understands. He’s been through injury before. He’s still young, and he’s already accomplished a bit this year. He’s accomplished his goals for next year already. We were aiming for top hundred in the world in two events and he’s already top sixty in two events. He’s clearly B Team status. He’s won a Europa Cup and won a NorAm.

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