The American skier’s once promising career was derailed for the past five years by a list of injuries longer than most athletes in a sport known for blown knees and ugly crashes.
Fully healthy for the first time in years, Nyman took advantage of changing conditions Saturday for an improbable win in a World Cup downhill that was shortened because of heavy snowfall and low visibility.
Nyman started 39th, long after the top-ranked skiers battled through rough conditions.
When he began, the snow had nearly stopped and the fog had lifted.
“I’m pretty psyched,” Nyman said. “Weather is definitely a huge factor. … On days like today you just got to hope for good conditions and take advantage of it. … In the start I looked down and I saw no fog in front of me and I just said, ‘It’s on, this is it, let’s go.’ ”
Go he did, posting faster times than previous leader Rok Perko, of Slovenia, at each checkpoint.
Perko, who started 35th, finished second for his first career podium, 0.19 seconds behind Nyman’s time of 1:28.82.
Downhill world champion Erik Guay, of Canada, was third, 0.24 back.
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud was fourth and teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, the overall World Cup leader, was fifth.
“When I heard Rok coming on the lead I was like, ‘Right on, the door is open,’ ” Nyman said.
“And I came off the camels (the biggest jumps on the course) and flew so far and I was like, ‘My skis are running. Just dial your line and then everything is good.’ I had a little mistake exiting Ciaslat (the course’s most technical section) and then everything kept running and I came down with the green (leader’s) light and I was fired up.”
It wasn’t just luck, though. Nyman also won this race back in 2006, when he was 25 and poised to follow in the footsteps of Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller as the next great American downhiller.
Nyman was also fifth in the first downhill training session on Wednesday.
“Obviously the guys in the back got a lucky break, but Steven skied fast in the first training run and he knew he was skiing well, so he took advantage of a good situation,” said U.S. teammate Marco Sullivan, who was 18th.
While Miller is still out recovering from knee surgery, the U.S. speed team is starting to click without him. Sullivan finished third in Lake Louise, Alberta, last month for his first podium finish in nearly three years.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Sullivan said.
New U.S. speed coach Andreas Evers, lured over from the powerful Austrian team for this season, also has helped.
“He’s an amazing coach,” Nyman said. “He has this quiet confidence about him. He teaches us what we need to do.”
Still, no coach could teach Nyman how to remain calm and focused during a race affected by bad weather with multiple delays.
The start of the race was delayed for more than two hours due to the weather conditions, which also led to the start being lowered, which cut about 30 seconds from the race.
Dominik Paris of Italy took the early lead before about a 20-minute delay due to fog rolling in across the course. When the fog moved out, Guay put down a blistering run that might have been good enough to win on a normal day.
But it then stopped snowing and the fog lifted even more and all of a sudden later starters had a chance.
No man had won a downhill with such a high start number since Fritz Stribl wearing No. 43 in Val d’Isere, France, in 1996.
Perhaps the most surprising result of the today, even more than Nyman, was 21-year-old Dutchman Marvin van Heek finishing eighth with the No. 53 bib. His previous best finish was 39th.
“That’s why it’s good that there’s more than one race every year,” Svindal said. “I mean if this were the Olympics it would be a joke <0x2014> you can’t have an unfair race for Olympics <0x2014> but for World Cup it happens. But I don’t want to take anything away from Nyman.”
In 1993, Markus Foser of Liechtenstein won the downhill here with bib No. 66 <0x2014> the lowest start number ever to win a men’s race.
“It’s typical to have races like this in Val Gardena,” said retired Italian skier Kristian Ghedina, who shares the record of four victories on the Saslong course with Austrian great Franz Klammer.
Nyman grew up in Sundance, Utah, and mowed Robert Redford’s lawn as a kid.
He won both the slalom and combined at the 2002 junior world championships and back in 2006 and 2007, he posted three World Cup podium finishes in a 12-month span.
But then the injuries hit: A bulging disk in his back that pinched a nerve and required him to wear a custom-fitted cast for six weeks; a badly bruised shin; operations on both knees; and a year ago, a torn Achilles tendon, which kept him out all of last season.
“I had a lot of confidence and then I lost it because of the injuries, but now it’s back,” Nyman said. “It’s just been a journey. I’ve always believed I had the speed and I hope to continue proving it throughout the year - that’s my goal: consistency.”