BEAVER CREEK - Never a doubt.
Ted Ligety simply sapped all the drama out of Sunday's World Cup Birds of Prey giant slalom, not that the fans at Beaver Creek minded at all. Ligety was the first out of the gates in the first run, slapping down a blistering first run for a 0.78-second lead over Austria's Marcel Hirscher.
Ligety bookended the day with an even faster second run, blowing away Hirscher, who finished second, by 1.78 seconds and third-place Davide Simoncelli, of Italy, (2.07) and the rest of the field for his second GS win in a row to open the 2012-13 World Cup season.
"I mean, Ted, he should ski two or three gates more than the other skiers," Hirscher said in the post-race news conference to laughter.
According to Simoncelli, Sunday's race was done after the first run.
"No, I thought to do my best, maybe for second place," he said. "First place was impossible."
As strange as it may sound, Ligety's margin of victory decreased - relatively speaking - from his season-opening GS win in October in Soelden, Austria, where he won by 2.75 seconds.
"I'm skiing fast. I don't know if I'm skiing at a different level," Ligety said. "I think a lot of other guys have made mistakes. It's tough to say exactly what it is, but I feel like I'm skiing well."
This was Ligety's third win in his last four starts here - Hirscher won last year's Birds of Prey GS, while Ligety took the top step of the podium 48 hours later as the Val d'Isere, France, technical races were moved to Beaver Creek the following week because of a lack of snow in Europe.
Ligety leaves Beaver Creek with a perfect 2-for-2 record in his best discipline and is No. 2 in overall points (320) behind Norway's Askel Lund Svindal (400), who was sixth Sunday.
And to think that Ligety was outspoken about the new shape of giant-slalom skis which went into use at the start of the season - skis with less of a turning radius. While few have better credentials to speak upon the topic, Ligety seems like he could win a GS with a snowboard right now.
"Especially with the criticism I had of the rule changes, I felt like I needed to really work hard to prove those aren't going to be an excuse for me not to not be fast," Ligety said.
He said he tried the new type of skis briefly in February and March and then really got to work on them this summer. Summing up, Ligety thinks that his rather outlandish margins of victory in GS are a combination of his skiing well, the competition making mistakes and likely an adjustment period for the new skis for the field.
Ligety's 0.78-second lead after one run did pose a challenge - does he nurse the lead or put the pedal down? He cited last year's GS at Alta Badia, Italy, where he did the former and fell to fourth as well as his loss here to Austria's Benni Raich in 2008 by one-hundredth of a second.
He said that he skied a bit more tactically, keeping in mind the difficulty of Birds of Prey. On the other hand, the second course set was fast - anywhere from 1-1.5 seconds for the field.
"That's the fastest speed we've had in GS in a bunch of years," Ligety said.
Whatever the strategy, the green numbers of his lead on the scoreboard increased with each interval - 1.08, 1.43 and finally 1.78 - in direct proportion to the cheers in the finish area at Red Tail.
While Ligety is dominant right now in GS, do remember that there is lot of winter left. When Ligety won the transplanted Val d'Isere giant slalom here last year, he had 280 out of a possible 300 points in the discipline and seemed destined to win the globe. Hirscher had ceded it to him in the media, calling the American, "Mr. GS," as he did Sunday, and then beat Ligety for not only the GS title, but the slalom and the overall crowns.
Racers will challenge Ligety in GS, and Hirscher is solid candidate.
Simoncelli's third-pace finish capped a great week for the Italian team. Fellow contrymen Christof Innerhofer won the downhill Friday and Matteo Marsaglia was golden in the super-G Saturday.
"I am happy for me today," Simoncelli said. "We are proud as a nation. We hope to go on like this for the winter."
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.