‘I definitely didn’t come here to get fourth place’
Team Palisades Tahoe skier Bryce Bennett ready to race for Olympic hardware
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, local downhill skier Bryce Bennett was simply happy to be participating in his first games.
Four years later and in the midst of his best season of World Cup racing, Bennett is now gunning for a medal.
“Four years ago, I was just starting to kind of figure out downhill skiing, and now I’m in a position to do it,” said the 6-foot-7-inch Team Palisades Tahoe skier. “Obviously that’s what I want to do, but I’m focused on putting down runs that I’m proud of. That’s what I’m focusing on. I want to just be in the finish and be proud of the run. Whatever comes, comes, but I definitely didn’t come here to get fourth place.”
Bennett is off to a solid start, leading the U.S. team in Wednesday’s first downhill training run. He finished 13th with a time of 1 minute, 45.01 seconds. Switzerland’s Stefan Rogentin posted the fastest time of the day, crossing the finish line in 1:44.00.
Bennett, 29, compared the ribbon of man-made snow in Beijing’s Yanqing district to that of Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
“The snow is pretty similar to Beaver Creek, but the cold was like negative 25 Celsius at the start,” said Bennett. “It’s pretty windy and that’s going to be a big factor. The first training run, dudes were all over the place.”
Several athletes struggled on the Yanqing downhill course, nicknamed “The Rock,” as roughly one out of three athletes failed to successfully reach the bottom of the venue.
“I watch the first couple guys go and it just, like, gave me nerves. But then once I got going it was fine,” Bennett said in an interview with NBC right after his run. “It’s going to be a huge work in progress, but it was better to start with a run that was competitive versus having a run that was three seconds out.”
Wednesday marked the first time athletes saw the course. The Yanqing downhill course has never been featured on the World Cup, and didn’t host an Olympic test event due to the pandemic.
“It’s a simple downhill,” said Bennett. “There’s a key turn, but other than that it’s not that challenging.”
COVID-19’s impact has already been felt throughout the games. Athletes aren’t allowed to leave the village unless it’s traveling to a venue, and only select spectators will be allowed at venues and at today’s Opening Ceremonies.
“Basically we got off the plane, did tons of COVID testing work, lots of paperwork, they put us on a bus, we went to the athlete village, and we can go from the village to the ski resort. So there’s not much (to do),” said Bennett.
The Yanqing Village, which is roughly 60 miles to the north of Beijing, will be home to all of the alpine athletes along with those participating in sliding events. At the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, downhill racers were separated from everyone due to the location of the venue, which Bennett said gave him the feeling of a World Cup race.
“In Korea, our event was separated from everything. It was all the guys that you see every weekend. Now you see different faces at dinner,” said Bennett. “You have all of the alpine nations, and bobsled is here too … … it’s been pretty cool so far.”
With strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, Bennett said he and teammates are making the best of the circumstances. The highlight outside of competition, thus far — a trip to walk the bobsled course with teammates Travis Ganong and Ryan Cochran-Siegle.
“We were, like, on the track, and so that was pretty fun,’ said Bennett. “Other than that, there’s not a whole bunch to do. The COVID thing is pretty real. There’s COVID testing everyday. They take it serious over here.”
Bennett added that he’s not sure if the team will make the roughly two-hour shuttle ride to Beijing for today’s Opening Ceremonies.
“The COVID stuff, it puts a damper on things, but it puts a damper on things for everyone,” he said.
Bennett’s first event will be men’s downhill on Sunday. Temperatures that morning are forecast to be in the teens, with wind gusts up to 11 mph, which could play a major part in deciding which skier stands on the Olympic podium.
“It makes a huge difference and you definitely can’t see it on TV,” said Bennett. “It’s tough downhill because of the fact that you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Bennett will then compete in super-G on Tuesday before wrapping up his second Olympics with alpine combined on Thursday. Bennett was 16th in downhill and 17th in alpine combined at the 2018 Winter Olympics. In World Cup racing this season, Bennett picked up his first-career win and also picked up a seventh place last month in Switzerland.
Bennett said the plan is to leave the games shortly after the final competition, stating he expects to back in the Tahoe-Truckee area by Feb. 12. The only question left unanswered is whether he’ll have Olympic hardware around his neck when he makes it back home.
|HOW TO WATCH BRYCE BENNETT|
|Men’s downhill||Sat., 7 p.m.||NBCOlympics.com / PEACOCK App|
|Men’s super-G||Mon., 7 p.m.||NBC / NBCOlympics.com / PEACOCK App|
|Men’s combined||Wed., 6:30 p.m.||NBC / NBCOlympics.com / PEACOCK App|
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