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Thinking big: Bennett zooming toward 1st World Cup podium

December 3, 2019 GMT
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Bryce Bennett of the United States skis down the course during the men's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Bryce Bennett of the United States skis down the course during the men's World Cup downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Looking back, Bryce Bennett realizes the risk his parents took to launch his ski racing career.

The American downhiller needed extra funding. His parents offered to take out a second mortgage on their house to provide that necessary capital. He took them up on it after one affirming question: Was he sure?

“I’m like, ‘For sure. I got this,’” Bennett recounted. “They’re like, ‘OK, then.’”

Bennett’s repaying that faith in full. The 6-foot-7 racer from Squaw Valley, California, is coming off his most lucrative season yet in finishing seventh overall in the World Cup downhill standings.

His ambitions have now reached even greater heights — that first World Cup podium spot of his career. He’s got a chance this weekend when the tour stops in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

“I’ve never been in a position where I’m potentially ‘that guy.’ This is new territory for me,” said the 27-year-old Bennett, who’s among the top contenders in the Birds of Prey downhill race Saturday. “I’m going to have to deal with it. I’m going to try to do everything possible to ski as fast as possible every weekend. Hopefully my plan will put me on the podium.”

To even be in this position, he needed some early financial backing from his parents, Stan and Mary. About a decade ago and before he was on the U.S. ski team, he was racing on basically the minor-league circuit, just hoping to gain some notice.

His parents understood the importance of racing to him. After all, skiing is in the family’s DNA. His mom worked at Alpine Meadows Resort and his father was a telemark racer. They had Bennett on skis by 2 and soon after in the Squaw Valley Mighty Mite program.

It all paid off. Bennett was invited to a spring tryout camp in 2011 and eventually earned his way onto the squad.

“It was a gamble, a straight gamble,” Bennett said of the family’s financial decision.

And a risk he realized — especially after his dad spent some time traveling with him — that wasn’t made for results or titles. No, it was for his personal growth.

“The way they perceived it is what I got out of it as a person was worth every penny,” Bennett said. “I think they’re psyched on that, which is cool.”

Last season, Bennett was competing with something to prove. A member of the B team, he was responsible for paying about $15,000 in expenses to compete (he earned that money through fundraising).

All he did was turn in career-best performances at downhills along the World Cup circuit: Lake Louise (12th), Beaver Creek (ninth), Val Gardena (fourth), Bormio (fourth), Wengen (fifth), Kitzbuehel (14th) and Kvitfjell (12th).

“I was pretty motivated to not be named to the B team again,” Bennett said.

Recently, though, the ski team took steps to ease the financial burden on racers. The A, B and C squads are fully funded, while the D team costs were reduced to $10,000.

No matter, he’s on the A squad this season and eager for another big breakthrough.

“You score your first World Cup points and you’re on top of the world,” said Bennett, who was 23rd in the first downhill of the season last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. “You do that a couple times and 28th position is cool and everything, but you still got 28th. Then, you get in the top-15 and you’re like, ‘I’m so psyched.’

“After a while, that novelty wears off. You want more and more and more. So, to get your first World Cup win is going to be epic.”

Being as tall as he is presents numerous challenges as a downhiller. For one, getting into and maintaining his tuck position on the flatter sections.

Bennett watches 6-foot-4 teammate Steven Nyman for tips. He also studied Norwegian standout Aksel Lund Svindal, who’s now retired.

“With a 7-foot wing span, I have to keep (my arms) tucked in,” Bennett said. “Otherwise, I go slow.”

And turns — carrying speed into the turns is vital.

“That’s what it comes down to,” Bennett said. “Because the downhill right now is so competitive. The margins between first and 30th are like a second-and-a-half sometimes, which is nothing.”

Bennett couldn’t thank his parents enough for putting him on this path.

For believing.

“My parents have dumped a lot of time and energy and allocated a lot of resources for me to be in this position,” Bennett said. “I do feel like paying that back is something I want to try and do.”

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