December 15, 2016

VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves, Bill Johnson, Buddy Werner.

None of these accomplished skiers have achieved what Steven Nyman is aiming for this season: To become the first American man to claim the season-long World Cup downhill title.

Having finished sixth in the past two seasons - and within 76 points (less than the 100 points earned with one race win) of the crystal globe trophy last season - Nyman believes he has what it takes to surge into the top spot.

''It's a possibility in my head, because I performed really well in the beginning of last season and I performed really well in the end of the year,'' Nyman said on Thursday after placing second in the final downhill training session on his preferred course in Val Gardena. ''So if I can figure out how to link all that together I definitely have a shot at the title.

''But it's a big step and big names like Bode and Daron and (A.J.) Kitt and (Kyle) Rasmussen and Bill Johnson - nobody has ever won it,'' Nyman added. ''So for me to say that is a big statement.''

Miller came close to the title in 2008, finishing five points behind Didier Cuche when the final downhill of the season was canceled in Bormio.

Rahlves finished a distant second to Stephan Eberharter in 2003.

If Nyman does realize his goal, he'll raise the trophy on home snow at the World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colorado, not far from Nyman's hometown of Sundance, Utah.

After finishing only 15th in the opening downhill of this season in Val d'Isere, France, this month, Nyman will be looking for a lot more on Saturday in Val Gardena, where he has claimed his only three career wins.

With one more downhill win in Val Gardena, Nyman can match the course record shared by Austrian great Franz Klammer and Italian great Kristian Ghedina.

''I've performed at most of the hills already so I just have to really stay focused and execute,'' Nyman said. ''The equipment is styled. Everything has been pretty good. My body is quite healthy.''

Over his career, Nyman has achieved podium results in five other World Cup resorts - including a third-place on the course in South Korea that will host the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

Still, Nyman hasn't been able to win anywhere else besides Val Gardena.

''When I see him ski here the confidence seems a lot higher,'' Canadian rival Erik Guay said. ''I don't think I've seen him ski with that kind of confidence in a place like Beaver Creek or Kitzbuehel.''

Peter Fill of Italy, who grew up just down the road from the Val Gardena course, is the defending downhill champion.

Win or lose, Nyman will enjoy himself in Val Gardena.

On Sunday, Nyman will take his annual tour around the Sellaronda, a 40-kilometer (25-mile) loop of interconnected trails around the Sella Range massif in the heart of the Dolomites that traverses four Alpine passes.

Last year, Nyman completed the Sellaronda on a mono ski.

''And I had never mono skied before. It was a long 40 kilometers. It took all day. But it was a lot of fun. You can't get a bad view here. And to ski all the way around and witness the air show in Alta Badia for the giant slalom is pretty exciting.''

Nyman finishes off his tour with a seafood dinner at the Emilio Comici refuge in Val Gardena.

''The fish is brought in every day from the Mediterranean so it's top notch,'' Nyman said. ''They're proud of their food here and I like eating a lot of it. The people, the food, the air. It's kind of like the Mediterranean air. I step out of the car here and I just feel at home. Our hosts, the Demetzs, is family to us.''

When Nyman returns to Val Gardena next year, he's hoping it will be as the reigning World Cup downhill champion.


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