Truckee’s Bryce Bennett finishes 16th in men’s Olympic downhill
Special to The Union
Truckee alpine skier Bryce Bennett competed in men’s downhill at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea Thursday and finished in 16th place.
Bennett didn’t have a great start to the race, which featured 55 competitors, and by the end of his run was 1.97 seconds off the pace of gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway.
Svindal, 35, finished with a time of 1:40.25 to become the oldest man to win an alpine skiing gold medal. Bennett, 25, finished the course with a time 1:42.22 for Team USA’s fastest run.
The Squaw Valley product was ninth in the third and final training run leading up to the event. Bennett also took 17th place in men’s alpine combined earlier in the week.
Bennett first stepped into a pair of skis at the age of 2, and after more than two decades on the snow, that toddler has grown into one of the country’s top skiers.
At January’s World Cup alpine combined race, Bennett put together a standout performance on the slopes of Wengen, Switzerland, claiming a top-10 finish, and in doing so, fulfilled a lifelong goal by stamping his ticket to Pyeongchang, South Korea as a member of Team USA.
It would take some time before Bennett heard the news that he’d made the Olympic squad, a fact the Squaw Valley skier didn’t learn until he logged onto his social media account.
“I actually saw it on Facebook,” Bennett told the Sierra Sun at the time.
With a consistent season of World Cup racing up until that point and four spots open on the U.S. roster, odds were Bennett would be named to the team eventually, so when the announcement came that his top-ten finish at Wengen had landed him a spot on the men’s alpine squad, Bennett wasn’t exactly overcome with emotion.
“It was kind of just a relief,” Bennett said. “No matter what, you’re going over there and you’re going to compete. I know I can be competitive in (alpine) combined. I was only 0.30 off the podium in Wengen.”
His ninth-place finish at Wengen was the best by any American on the day, and matched the best result of his career in combined. The top-10 finish cemented his spot on the Olympic roster, according to a statement from Team USA.
Bennett started the day by putting himself in great position. He ripped through the course for the seventh fastest downhill time at 1:45.09, which was 0.69 seconds off the leader and second fastest time by an American. From there, he put together a solid slalom run to finish ninth overall to claim his spot on Team USA.
He finished the combined event in Wengen with a total time of 2 minutes 36.74 seconds. France’s Victor Muffat-Jeandet won the race with a total time of 2:35.29.
Growing up Squaw
Bennett was born to ski. His father was a telemark racer, according to information from Team USA, and his mother worked at Alpine Meadows.
As a youngster, Bennett joined the Squaw Valley Ski Team, where he first ran into coach Greg Jones.
“I’ve known Bryce since he was a 10- or 11-year-old,” Jones said. “Bryce was always the biggest of the gang, and he was a bit of a rebel — kind of a troublemaker, but he was a great skier, and leader of the pack.”
Due to his size, Jones said he didn’t have high aspirations for the rangy youngster’s alpine career, but Bennett, now 6 feet, 7 inches, soon proved his doubters wrong.
“I’ve watched him evolve through all those years. It’s pretty weird because I never had huge expectations for him, because he’s such a big kid and skiers that size, don’t have huge success,” Jones said.
“But he was smart — he kept himself healthy, he trained hard, he managed not to get hurt, and he made it to the higher ranks. He’s quite an inspiration and good story for a lot of young kids. They start out thinking they might not have a chance or that even the coaches might not put that much relevance in the their skiing, and then all of a sudden they prove you wrong.”
As the seasons wore on, Bennett matured and went from being somewhat of a troublemaker to a role model for the younger skiers on Squaw’s team.
“As he grew into a (teenager) he got more mature,” Jones said. “He was still competing and winning, and then he started giving kids inspiration and lectures on what it takes to win.”
Bennett said the U.S. ski team isn’t staying in the Olympic Village during the games, but other than that, he plans on taking in the full Olympic experience, starting with last week’s Opening Ceremonies.
“You don’t go to your first Olympics and blow that one off. I’m not a cool guy yet,” Bennett joked. “I’m just going to head over there and kind of let it happen, and experience it and enjoy it.”
While Bennett won’t likely return to the Truckee-Tahoe area until after the Olympics are completed, he did have one final message for the hometown crowd.
“I want everyone at home to know that it wasn’t me who made it to the Olympics, it was everyone in the community who has helped me and supported me,” Bennett said before departing for South Korea. “Without those people I wouldn’t be in this position. I’m incredibly grateful for it. Shout out to my Tahoe crew. Everyone knows who they are, and I just want to say thank you.”
Justin Scacco is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of The Union based in Truckee.
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