BEAVER CREEK — Ted Ligety leaned over his skis as far as gravity would allow, trying to get across the finish line just a little quicker.
In this race, that was hardly necessary.
Soon, it might make a big difference. After all, there’s now another competitor for him to worry about, one he knows quite well, too: Bode Miller.
Sure, Ligety remains the king of the giant slalom, winning his fourth straight World Cup race in that discipline Sunday, but Miller is catching up in a hurry and in perfect time, too, with the Sochi Games two months away. That surgically repaired left knee — the one that kept him out for a full season — is really no longer a bother.
Ligety completed the technical course in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 35.77 seconds, eclipsing Miller by 1.32 seconds. Marcel Hirscher of Austria was third.
That wasn’t how Ligety envisioned things turning out. It’s usually Ligety, Hirscher and Alexis Pinturault of France on the GS podium, but Miller crashed the party and bumped Pinturault to fifth.
It’s the first time the Americans have placed two skiers on a GS podium since 2005, when Miller and Daron Rahlves went 1-2.
“To share the podium with Bode is awesome. But I’m a little surprised, actually,” said Ligety, who also became the first to capture four straight World Cup giant slalom races since Italy’s Alberto Tomba accomplished the feat in 1991. “It was impressive how he was able to bring his intensity up and put down some impressive runs. That’s cool to be able to have another American guy challenging me up there.”
While everyone else tries to emulate Ligety’s giant slalom style — so smooth and effortless — Miller is taking a different road. He’s skiing the way he skis and just seeing what happens.
He’s not a follower, never has been, something Ligety appreciates.
“If you try to copy somebody’s technique, you’re going to be several steps behind them all the time,” Ligety said. “Because nobody does it better than the original. You have to make it your own thing.”
Miller definitely does at that.
When Miller stepped into the starting gate for his final run, his wife, Morgan, could barely watch the big screen. As he maneuvered through the course, she jumped up and down, along with the capacity crowd.
And when he finished, she threw her arms up in the air while Bode Miller waved his ski pole, before stabbing it in the snow.
“He’s back,” Morgan Miller said.
Yep, he sure is.
To think, there were those who told him he’d never be a good technical skier again, that he should stick to the speed events. This performance, Miller said, was for all those who doubted him as he recovered from what could’ve been a career ending knee surgery nearly 22 months ago.
“A little bit of redemption today, to show that I’m coming back in GS,” Miller said. “I think I can do slalom, too. I’m so skinny now, all aerodynamic and snappy, to be able to ski four events the way I like to do it.”
To trim down 20 pounds, Miller worked with trainer Gavin MacMillan, whose clients also include boxer Manny Pacquiao. Miller and MacMillan are trying to get that knee back into shape without weights, but with more of a plyometric approach using elastic bands.
So far, it appears to be working. Not that MacMillan’s surprised.
“You’re talking about one of the more elite athletes in the world,” MacMillan said. “It was more about finding that again than trying to create it. I knew once we got the power back in his legs, it was only a matter of getting his timing back.
“Once he got his timing back, he’s right back to where he was, because you can’t take 20 years of that away.”
Hirscher was a little in awe of being next to Miller on the podium. After all, the reigning overall champion grew up with posters of Miller on his wall.
“This is really cool,” Hirscher said. “But it would be cooler if Bode was third and with me in second.”
This day started well for Miller as he communicated via Skype with his young son from another relationship.
Right after the race, he was scheduled to fly to New York for a custody hearing Monday involving his son — the 9-month-old child’s legal name is Samuel Bode after his father, but Miller calls him Nathaniel. The mother, Sara McKenna, currently has custody of the child in New York.
“We know someday we’re going to get to a really good place with this. We’re really positive and excited,” Morgan Miller said. “It’s a process. But we’re having a great time. Life is good.”