American gold returns to home slopes
BEAVER CREEK — It’s been 26 years since a gold medal hung around the neck of an American skier on home snow at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — that is, until Friday — when Utah’s Ted Ligety won the giant slalom by a decisive margin in front of a wild crowd of U.S. fans.
The last World Championships gold medal won by an American at home was by Tamara McKinney in the alpine combined on Feb. 2, 1989, when the Championships were first held in Vail. Friday’s wide, sweeping course suited “Mr. GS,” as he beat out the rest of the field by nearly half a second for the win. Ligety said the victory was especially sweet coming during a season where he hasn’t always dominated the podium like in past years.
“This one is maybe a little bit more emotional than some other (wins), because this year has been a little more of a struggle,” he said, comparing it to past years when he’s enjoyed winning streaks. “This one was a bigger question mark as far as how I was skiing, and to be able to come through and pull it off is awesome.”
Other American results included Californian Tim Jitloff in ninth, Tommy Ford in 19th, Brennan Rubie in 26th and David Chodounsky in 29th.
Jitloff called Ligety an inspiration to his teammates.
“I’m proud that Ted was able to do it today. It’s great for the people here. They’ve been waiting for it,” he said. “It’s something that I aspire to. With how I’ve been skiing and my results, I hope that I’ll be joining him on the podium.”
And the crowd went wild
Veteran ski journalist and constant World Cup presence Patrick Lang said that in his 45 years in ski racing, he’s never heard a roar as loud as what came up from the crowd when the final racer, Austrian Marcel Hirscher, crossed the line and it was clear that Ligety had held the lead.
“It was like a plane taking off,” Lang said.
Ligety said being home gave American racers a definite boost.
“I love racing in the U.S. That’s one of the real anomalies for us. We’re always racing in Europe, and having those extra comforts of home and the friend and family support — it’s huge,” he said.
Other U.S. skiers got the same enthusiasm, including Chodounsky, who skied to the finish to deafening chants of “USA! USA!” Jitloff said the support from the home crowd was extremely motivating during the final turns of the course, when racers were tired.
“(The cheers) pull you down. It’s magnetic,” he said. “With the Americans, you can’t tell if you’re doing well or doing bad. They’re fired up anyway and are super supportive. You’re like, ‘What is it? Is it good? Is it bad?’ A screaming crowd is something that gets me fired up. If I’m in training and there aren’t people out there, it’s hard to bring the same intensity as you do when you have people screaming their brains out.”
Solid day for Americans
Besides Ligety’s gold, the day proved to be a solid race for the other Americans. Several racers are returning to form after season-ending injuries. Brennan, of Snowbird, Utah, is returning from a leg fracture. He admitted to fighting some nerves, but was happy to make the second run.
“It’s been a tough year for me, so I was excited to perform on a home hill and get a second run,” he said.
Ford, who also sat out the last two seasons with injuries, said he’s gradually building his form and was encouraged by the American support.
“It’s fun being in the lift line or walking around the stadium and everyone is just psyched that you’re out here doing it and want to see you go fast. It’s welcoming here. In Europe, it’s fun — there are a lot of people — but they aren’t from home. This is the home crowd,” he said.
Chodounsky, of Minnesota, said that he achieved one of his major season goals — to race the giant slalom at the World Championships. U.S. fans will also see him skiing at the slalom on Sunday.
“I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to be an American, and I’m proud to be representing in from the home crowd,” said Jitloff.