SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Ryan Cochran-Siegle speaks just like he skis: poised, measured and in control.
The brightest prospect for an Olympic medal among the men on the U.S. Ski Team, Cochran-Siegle is not about to make any grand proclamations about his future — especially as he continues to regain his form after breaking his neck and then making the risky decision to switch ski brands.
“Just ending the season in good health and finding consistency,” the 29-year-old Cochran-Siegle said Thursday when asked to define his goals for a season that includes the Beijing Olympics in February. “It’s definitely a learning year as you come back from injury and change equipment.
“As athletes you want to be successful there but there have been many good skiers that don’t have Olympics success, so I don’t think that defines anyone’s career,” added Cochran-Siegle, whose mother, Barbara Ann Cochran, won the slalom at the 1972 Olympics. “It’s just about seeing the big picture and hoping I’m in a good condition at that point.”
Cochran-Siegle’s results recently point to a different possible outcome: The American appears poised to pick up where he left off before his injury and re-establish himself as the U.S. team’s next star.
Cochran-Siegle has been downright dominant through the opening two training runs this week for the Val Gardena downhill, winning the opening session on Wednesday by nearly a full second and then placing third in the second run on Thursday.
“I saw that coming,” said Norwegian standout Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who led Thursday’s session. “He’s an unbelievable skier and he’s a guy, if he keeps on his feet, he’s going to be hard to beat in the future.”
A year ago, Cochran-Siegle finished second in this downhill for his first career podium result. Then 10 days later he claimed his first World Cup victory in a super-G in Bormio.
In January, though, Cochran-Siegle was the victim of a horrifying crash on the feared Streif course in Kitzbühel, Austria. A fracture of the seventh cervical vertebra of his spine meant that he didn’t get back on skis until May and didn’t resume full training until August.
“It was an unfortunate timing. I was picking up a lot of confidence with my skiing,” Cochran-Siegle said. “So I’m trying to learn from that and take it day by day here, be more consistent and making sure I’m in a good, balanced position every day I’m skiing.”
His comeback coincided with a switch in ski brands from Rossignol to Head, where he has been paired with Heinz Haemmerle, Lindsey Vonn’s former ski technician.
Only now is he starting to feel like he can push again.
“It’s a solid year of learning, building a good friendship with Heinz as well and developing that relationship will be key,” Cochran-Siegle said. “But I definitely feel where I’m at right now I know I can be competitive. Then it’s a matter of time before I know I can be competitive consistently.”
As far as the potential, there’s little debate.
Just ask teammate Bryce Bennett, who, like Cochran-Siegle, is a 29-year-old downhiller.
In terms of technique, Bennett believes that Cochran-Siegle is the best skier in the world.
“Sometimes he just doesn’t believe in himself,” Bennett said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you could dominate all of these.’ He’s getting there, though, he’s getting that confidence. He’s just consistent every turn with his movements. Technically he just puts himself in the correct position every time.”
Cochran-Siegle comes from a Vermont family of prominent skiers, a group that includes several former national team members. Barbara Ann Cochran, besides her Olympic gold, also claimed a silver medal at the 1970 world championships in Val Gardena.
There has been plenty more American success over the years in Val Gardena, with Steven Nyman having won the downhill three times and Bode Miller winning the super-G in 2006.
“Knowing that we’ve had success, it allows us to kind of just go out day-by-day and enjoy it and not worry so much about results,” Cochran-Siegle said. “When you can focus on the skiing as much as you can and really just key in on that, that’s when you can ski fast.”
Off the hill, Cochran-Siegle’s East Coast personality contrasts with Bennett’s more outgoing West Coast style.
“He’s a good kid. He’s the puppy dog,” Bennett said. “He’s just modest. He has humble upbringings and he just respects people.”
That doesn’t mean Cochran-Siegle doesn’t pull off a prank every now and then.
“He put a traffic cone once in my duffle bag flying out of Chile,” Bennett said. “I flew home with a traffic cone. He’s just a good dude.”
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