Birds of Prey giant slalom: The race for second place? | VailDaily.com

Birds of Prey giant slalom: The race for second place?

Austria's Marcel Hirscher is the overwhelming favorite in Sunday, Dec. 2's giant slalom race at Birds of Prey. The first run starts at 9:45 p.m.
Luca Bruno | Associated Press file photo | AP

BEAVER CREEK — Here’s your morning brain-teaser: Who was the last person not named Marcel Hirscher or Ted Ligety to win a giant slalom at Birds of Prey?

We’ll play the “Jeopardy” music for a moment.

Buzz in and say, “Alex, who is Switzerland’s Carlo Janka in 2009?”

Janka completed three wins in as many days with his GS win, and, ever since, this has been the Ted and Marcel Show.

Ligety won in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and during the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

Hirscher won in 2011, 2015 and 2017.

And, yes, if you were playing attention, Beaver Creek picked up a second GS from Val d’Isere, France in 2011, so they both won that year.

While there are a bunch of racers in Sunday, Dec. 2’s Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup giant slalom — the first run is at 9:45 a.m. with the flip at 12:45 p.m. — there is a tendency to focus on the two.

Taking it one step further, is this a one-person show and is everyone else racing for second?

Marcel Hirscher may be as a close to a mortal lock in ski racing as there is. The Austrian has won five straight World Cup starts in GS dating back to Val d’Isere on Dec. 12, 2017. Those five straight do not include Olympic gold in GS.

Hirscher has won nine of the last 10 World Cup giant slaloms.

Since the season opener in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 25, 2015, there have been 25 World Cup GS races. Hirscher has won 14 of them, been on the podium in 23 of them and his “worst” finish was sixth place in Yuzawa Naeba, Japan on Feb. 13, 2016.

The reason we use Oct. 25, 2015, as a reference point is that day was Ligety’s last World Cup win.

As much as Ligety has done — 25 career World Cup wins, five Worlds gold medals and the 2014 Olympic GS championship — we are now in the Hirscher Era, even in giant slalom.

As a journalist, one roots for the story, and there would be none greater than Ligety, fully healthy again, summoning his old greatness and making a triumphant return to “his hill” at Beaver Creek to defeat his old rival.

See, this stuff writes itself.

But reality has a way of writing itself, too.

This is Hirscher’s race.

The contenders

This should be the second giant slalom of the season, but, for the second year in a row, Soelden was scrubbed.

Not surprisingly, Hirscher won the GS title last season with 720 points. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen was second (575), followed by France’s Alexis Pinturault (329), Austria’s Manuel Feller (309) and Sweden’s Matts Olssen (299).

Last year’s Birds of Prey GS podium was Hirscher, Kristoffersen and Germany’s Stefan Luitz. Ligety finished seventh and Tommy Ford was a surprise 10th.

The picks

Our stellar panel continued its unblemished record of successfully not picking Saturday, Dec. 1’s winner, Max Franz, but we’re willing to give it go for giant slalom.

Chris Freud, Vail Daily: Hirscher. Any questions?

Shauna Farnell, ski-writing goddess: Going for the comeback with Ligety.

Ross Leonhart, Vail Daily: He’s French and so is Pinturault.

Pat Graham, Associated Press, Denver: Pat’s going with Kristoffersen.

John LaConte, Vail Daily: If not Hirscher, then Ligety. (Hedging his bet.)