Birds of Prey saves its best for last with Germany’s Stefan Luitz
What just happened?
Yes, Germany’s Stefan Luitz led the first run of Sunday, Dec. 2’s Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup, but you knew that Marcel Hirscher was going to hammer the second run.
The Austrian is like former quarterback Joe Montana, down by one score, with two minutes left in the game. He knows he going to come back and win. The other team knows he’s going to come back to win. The fans know he’s going to engineer the comeback.
Hirscher is that clutch. He’s Joe Cool.
But Sunday was the day that the inevitable greatness of Hirscher was denied. Luitz celebrated like he stole something, which he may have done.
His first World Cup win came over Hirscher and that’s something that Luitz will carry around proudly for the rest of his life. Throw in that he’s torn both his right and left ACLs? This is almost like a Hollywood movie script.
Good for him, and this is why ski-racing is one of the greatest shows going. No one thought Luitz would win, and he did.
Ted and Marcel
Of course, we wanted to see Ted Ligety rise and snatch a bit of past glory. But, truthfully, Hirscher’s general domination of tech races is what Ligety did in the old days in GS.
Ligety won five straight GS starts here from 2011-2015, the last year being the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Yes, there were years that Ligety threw down during the first run, and the race was over (2012 and 2013).
In his 2011 win, Ligety trailed Hirscher by 2-hundredths of second after the first run. In 2014 here, France’s Alexis Pinturault led Ligety by 24-hundredths after the morning. The 2015 Worlds were his best comeback. Ligety was not only off the pace, but behind three guys, Hirscher, Pinturault and Germany’s Felix Neureuther.
Yet, as a fan, you just had the feeling that Ligety was going to pull through because he was the best at what he did at the time.
That’s Hirscher now. He is that good and that’s again why Luitz’ upset is so incredible.
In the 26 GS races since the start of the 2015-16 World Cup season, Hirscher has won 14 of them, podiumed in 24 of them and his “worst” finish was sixth. (Marcel, you finished sixth? You stink.)
Bigger picture, Hirscher is the greatest skier of this generation. He’s won the overall seven straight years, and is on his way to No. 8. The previous record was five overalls by Marc Girardelli, and the Luxembourg skier certainly didn’t win those consecutively.
River at Beaver Creek
Let’s remember the kid is only 20.
River Radamus was 54th in the super-G and 47th in the first run of GS. In the latter, he was 1.07 seconds off the flip.
As much as the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail product knows this course, and has institutional knowledge from watching all the races, it might be good for him to go to Europe and get a few starts as anonymous American ski racer.
Back to the “He’s 20” theme, Ligety started his career with four tech starts, three in which he didn’t make the flip and a DNF.
Give River some time.
Americans in review
We’re seeing some signs of life. Nyman ninth in the downhill and 20th in super-G shows he’s healthy. He can still compete. And, Val Gardena, Italy, the site of his three World Cup wins, is coming up in two weeks.
Travis Ganong is still getting his legs after an ACL injury, but he improved his results in both downhill and super-G from Lake Louise, Alberta. He just needs to trust that his knee is ready to go and that’s a process.
Bryce Bennett also had a solid weekend, tying Nyman for ninth in the downhill. Team USA may have some speed.
As for Mikaela Shiffrin, you’re a beast, girlfriend.
Let it snow
The 2018 Birds of Prey also served as a return to winter. It’s a miracle that the super-G got done on Saturday, Dec. 1, with all the snow. (Well done to all. There’s a reason Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal gave his podium bottles of whiskey to the Talon and Beaver Creek crews.)
And it was cold.
This may seem to be stating the obvious, but we haven’t had cold, snowy conditions for Birds of Prey or Worlds in 2015 for a while now. This is the way it should be.
Let’s hope it continues with a lot more snow now that Birds of Prey World Cup is a wrap.