BEAVER CREEK — Austria’s Marcel Hirscher simply shook his head from the hot seat when Ted Ligety came down after his first run.
“During the training with the Austrian Ski Team, I thought I was really fast,” Hirscher said afterward. “I thought I made some good steps forward and that I could close the gap between me and Ted. That was only a dream.”
“When I have a second-and-some lead, it makes it a little more comfortable,” Ligety said, then adding to the effect that nothing’s a sure thing in ski racing and anything can happen.
In reality, he said through his skiing, “Thanks for coming. Drive home safely.”
Ligety won his fifth giant slalom in his past six starts at Beaver Creek during Sunday’s Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup race, and this one was over before it started. Ligety led Hirscher by a whopping 1.26 seconds after the first run. Bode Miller ended up as the surprise of the first run, popping from 31st into second, but still 1.1 back of the defending World Cup GS champion.
Ligety’s second run was all but a victory lap as he finished 1.32 seconds ahead of the field with a total winning time of 2 minutes, 35.77 seconds. Miller finished second in 2:37.09 for his first World Cup podium since Feb. 3, 2012, while Hirscher was third in 2:37.59.
“Any time you get a win is awesome, especially at home in the U.S.,” Ligety said. “Having a lot of friends and family here is fun, so it’s great to perform in front of them. To share the podium with Bode is awesome.”
This is Ligety’s fourth World Cup win in a row in GS, dating back to last season. He is the first to do that in the discipline since Alberto Tomba in 1991.
The last time Americans went 1-2 in giant slalom was 2005 here, and that was Miller and Daron Rahlves.
Gliding to victory
Ligety recorded the fastest times of both runs on the way to his 19th career victory.
“But in a ski race, you’re never that comfortable because a small little bump here or there that you don’t foresee can usually knock you off course.” Ligety said. “So you can never get too comfortable no matter what. But the way I’ve been skiing giant slalom the last year and a half or so, I have lot of confidence in my ability to ski well. I have confidence in my ability to win, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing.”
The thing was, however, that the Park City, Utah, native made it look effortless. He seemingly glided through every turn in his second run, and there was nary a bobble to worry the home crowd.
Ligety said visibility was difficult on the course and finding the line between the firm track and the soft stuff was a thin one.
And there was also the fact that Hirscher was still looming.
“Marcel has been a guy that has pushed me a lot in my giant slalom because I know if I falter at all, he’s going to be on the podium or getting a win,” Ligety said. “That makes it difficult to win a GS title if you can’t make any mistakes. That’s made me push my level harder.”
Miller, on the other hand, said that it was academic.
“When he’s at the start of the second run, he knows he’s going to win,” Miller said.
This is Miller’s seventh podium appearance at Beaver Creek and he remains a fan favorite. Sunday was a big step back after his knee injury. He noted correctly that a lot of the margin between him and Ligety came during the first run when the Franconia, N.H., racer had to race out of the 31st position.
“It’s always a bit tough with the two-run events,” Miller said. “After the first run, I felt like I had already won. A lot of people were congratulating me. … My daughter was like, ‘Yeah, you got second place.’ And Ted was, ‘Not yet.’ That’s the real challenge of ski racing. It doesn’t let up.”
Though admitting that he felt a bit nostalgic before the second run, there is still a fire inside of Miller. There are better skiers, but “I do have some advantages in my intensity and my ability to push the limit is, if not the best in the world, is right there. I know I can always get something out of myself that most other guys can’t.”
The major worry with Miller, as always, was whether he was going to finish the second run. He had some moments, but nothing like his backseat ride in the 2005 Birds of Prey GS.
Meanwhile, Hirscher was gracious in third place.
“It means 60 points on my World Cup account, and that is really positive,” the Austrian said. “On the other side, sometimes we have to think about what’s going on. The U.S. is that fast and the rest of the world, the only thing we can do is watch and say, ‘Oh my God, they are so good.’ We have to push it harder and harder.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.