About Utah: How does one go about raising an Olympian?

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 10:00 p.m. MST

The boys of Sundance: Steven, Michael and Blake Nyman on a race day in the 1980s.

Nyman family photograph

OREM — It’s February in an Olympic year, which means the Nymans are packing up and heading to the Games.

At least one of them is. Becky Nyman is off to Sochi, Russia, this week, site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, while her husband, Scott, stays home because, well, somebody’s got to run the family business.

“I’m staying, she’s going,” says Scott as he stands in the entrance of Nyman’s Ski & Snowboard Shop at the mouth of Provo Canyon, 10 miles below Sundance Resort.

A banner on the wall behind the shop’s rental counter shows why the Olympics is a part of the Nymans' life. There, big as life, is a photo of Scott and Becky’s son Steven. He’s airborne on his skis, his poles stretched high and wide for balance, his face a study of laser-like focus. The picture was taken at Val Gardena, Italy, where Steven has twice finished first in the World Cup downhill race that is held there annually. The first was in 2006 when he was a rookie. The second, the one memorialized in the photo on the wall, came in 2012.

Those are Steven's high points in a skiing career that has seen him ranked as high as second in the world in the downhill. But, as with all American ski racers, he’s best known for making Olympic teams. He made his third straight one this year, one of 11 men on the U.S. alpine squad that will challenge the world at Sochi. At Torino in 2006 he was one of the youngest American skiers, at Vancouver in 2010 he was a veteran, and now, about to turn 32, he’s an elder statesman.

In between “Congratulations” and “Need anyone to carry your bags?” the Nymans get a lot of questions from parents who want to know how they did it. How does one go about raising an Olympian?

The Nymans could give them the long answer: Run the ski school at a ski resort, which is what they did at Sundance when their four sons were growing up (Steven has an older brother, Michael, and two younger brothers, Blake and Sam, all of them excellent skiers). Scott was director of the ski school and Becky was an instructor. They lived in a house next to the resort, which allowed the boys, who started skiing when they were 2, to stay on the hill until the lifts shut down. That kind of upbringing certainly helped.

But they don’t go into all that. Instead, this is what they say: Don’t push, support. And whatever you do, don’t take the joy out of it.

“This might seem too cliche-ish, but keep it fun,” says Scott. “Don’t pressure, don’t take the fun out of it by making it results-based.”

Adds Becky: “Pushing them too young and too often can kill that passion and love for the sport. I think some parents want it because they want to vicariously live through their child. We saw that so many times, kids who were out of the sport by the time they were 17 and 18 because Mom and Dad were the force behind it.”

Scott pulls out another picture of Steven. He’s just a child and he’s posing at Sundance with his brothers Michael and Blake next to their skis just before a race. Unlike the blowup poster from Val Gardena, which is all business, in this one the boys are a picture of carefree joy.

That’s the key, the Nymans will tell you. Let them enjoy it and set their own goals. In a scrapbook chronicling Steven’s career, Scott turns to a paper that Steven wrote in a Sunday school class. The teacher had asked the students to list their goals. Nyman wrote that he wanted to race in the Olympics and to be a professional ski racer. He was 12 years old.

The teacher hung onto the paper and a few years ago showed up on the Nymans' doorstep and said, “I think you’d like to have this.” It’s proof positive that setting goals is a good idea.

Steven’s turn in the Sochi spotlight will come early. The downhill event is scheduled for Sunday, the second full day of Olympic competition. He isn’t considered a top medal contender — his best downhill result this year is 19th — but as the Val Gardena races and two other career World Cup podiums have shown, he’s always a threat. He placed 19th in the downhill at the Torino Olympics and 20th in Vancouver.

In his two previous Olympics, he has not spent a lot of time away from the ski hill. This time, Becky says Steven has set aside four or five days after his downhill race (he could also ski in Super G, as determined by the coaches) to watch other sports and soak up the Russian culture.

“The Olympics is special,” says Becky. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to be able to go and be a part of it. We’re going to enjoy the experience.”

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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