Two decades have passed since Alain Baxter won and then lost his Olympic bronze in slalom; now, Dave Ryding has promised to share any medals he wins with his mentor.
Baxter held the distinction of being the only Briton to win an Olympic alpine skiing medal for about a month, before a failed drug test forced him back to his place on the podium at the Salt Lake City Games.
It was a cruel and unfair blow, with the British Olympic Association and skiing’s world governing body defending their case for warning.
Baxter tested positive for a banned stimulant methamphetamine, failing to notice a small but decisive difference in nasal inhalers sold in the United States and Europe.
“I still remember seeing him win the medal and it kindled something in me, whether it was passion or excitement, excitement. I don’t know what it was, but I still remember having this feeling,” Ryding said.
“I remember growing up watching him. Whatever he accomplishes, Alain will be above me because that’s how you perceive your heroes. If he hadn’t done what he did in Salt Lake, who knows if he would have had the drive to do what he did?” I did in Kitzbuehel.
“What happened after that showed that the medal shouldn’t have been taken away and it was such unfortunate circumstances.
“Hopefully nobody has to go through that again because it affected our sport and it affected it massively. She was insanely unlucky and her innocence was proven. If I had to get a medal, the best thing I could do would be to cut it in half and give him half.”
The Baxter story remains a warning to all athletes, the law of strict liability (you are responsible for whatever is in your system) is enshrined in sports law.
But even die-hard fans of regulation at the Court of Arbitration for Sport admitted sympathy and labeled Baxter, now one of Ryding’s assistant coaches, a “sincere and honest man”.
Ryding arrives in Beijing after scoring a historic World Cup victory in Kitzbuehel last month and will carry the British flag with former world curling champion Eve Muirhead at the opening ceremony on Friday.
He made his Olympic debut in Vancouver 12 years ago and will be attending the showpiece for the first time as Covid regulations mean he had to fly to China earlier than initially planned.
And Team GB hopes to have more athletes marching in the Bird’s Nest than in Tokyo last summer, with every team represented.
“I never dreamed of having a moment like this, it was a shock to be asked,” added Ryding, 35. “You never expect it until you get the phone call.”
“For skiing, it’s also a very proud day and hopefully it puts us back in the spotlight because that’s what we need as a sport.”
Ryding moved to the Olympic Village in Yanqing, 60 miles icy north of Beijing. He will spend the next week perfecting his skills, with his event in just under two weeks.
Asked if he was concerned about the drop in temperatures (it was minus 21 degrees on the track Thursday), he said: “Not really, but with those lycra spandex suits it can get a little chilly.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.