Hirscher ends Ligety’s run in giant slalom
BEAVER CREEK — Call it a passing of the torch in many ways.
Austrian Marcel Hirscher not only unseated American Ted Ligety, who was a DNF in the first run, as the champion of the Birds of Prey World Cup giant slalom on Sunday. He also made some Austrian ski-racing history.
Hirscher blew away the field with a combined time of 2 minutes, 32.58 seconds, 0.98 seconds ahead of France’s Victor Muffat-Jeandet in second and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen in third, 1.31 seconds back.
That is Hirscher’s 15th World Cup GS win, setting a new Austrian record in that discipline. Hirscher passed up two guys, one named Hermann Maier and the other Benni Raich, who previously held the record with 14.
“I’m on the top of the slalom standings in Austria? This is pretty amazing,” Hirscher said. “I am moving on to Benni’s record. Give me a couple of years.”
This is a typical Hirscher understatement.
Yes, he was already the all-time Austrian slalom winner. He’s now got GS and “Benni’s record” is 36 career World Cup wins, second all-time on the Austrian list behind Maier’s 54. Hirscher now has 33, so it won’t take “a couple of years,” to catch Raich. It’s probably a matter of months.
Make no mistake — Hirscher earned this one.
Yes, Ted Ligety, who’s won six of his last seven starts here, looked good on the top of the course and was in the lead through the first two intervals, before DNF-ing on Harrier. Thomas Fanara and Alexis Pinturault, both of France and both podium contenders, also skied out.
Nonetheless, Hirscher was simply in top form. He could have skied conservatively in the second run. He had 0.52-second advantage coming out of the gate as the last racer in the second run.
He went for it and, as the green splits became larger on the scoreboard, everyone at Redtail knew this was in the bag.
“I’m always skiing against the time, not against Ted (Ligety) or Felix (Neureuther) or who else. I’m always searching for perfect turns,” Hirscher said. “Maybe I can be faster than the best time or get as close to the best time. In general, I’m happy with my skiing. Hopefully, I can bring this momentum back to Europe.”
Hirscher leaves North America in fine shape. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal is first in the overall with 317 points with Hirscher in second with 260, bolstered by a surprise win super-G on Saturday and Sunday’s more conventional win in a tech event.
Given that four of the six men’s World Cup events have been speed events, Hirscher is sitting pretty right now for a fifth consecutive World Cup overall title. For the uninitiated, Hirscher has won his previous four titles by beating everyone in slalom and GS, so having more tech races than speed left on the slate is major advantage for the Austrian.
Welcome to the podium
For Muffat-Jeandet, Sunday was special. It was his first GS podium and only the second of his career. His only other trip to the steps was last season in Wengen, Switzerland, in a super-combined.
“Last year was my best year ever,” he said, going on to talk about the season-opening GS in Austria in October. “I was (seventh) in the GS (World Cup points). Soelden was not really what I wanted. I finished 10th. We worked harder after Soelden.”
Kristoffersen is no stranger to the podium. He has four career World Cup wins and this was his 12th podium. He’s also the youngest male to medal at the Winter Olympics — he won bronze in the slalom in 2014, a few days short of his 20th birthday.
Now an elderly 21, he’s starting to find the comfort zone of a tour veteran.
“For me, it’s hard. This is a very flat hill (for GS),” Kristoffersen said. “I haven’t skied that many times on U.S. snow. It’s a bit different from the European snow. It makes it a challenge, but my motive was just to ski good and see what happens. Last year, I was 27th. It’s the first good GS I’ve had here.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.