Left hand is fine, Ligety prepared for Birds
BEAVER CREEK — American giant-slalom king Ted Ligety described it so matter-of-factly.
“We were training GS, and I hit my hand on the base of the gate,” Ligety said of his ill-fated training run on Vail’s Golden Peak a little more than a week ago. “Since my gloves are very good protection for my hand, it just buckled my hand over my wrist and broke a bone in my wrist and tore a bunch of ligaments and stuff too.”
There was no panic — no worries about missing major time with a GS this Sunday and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships coming up here in Beaver Creek in February.
“The moment I did it, I knew I broke something,” he said. “I’ve broken my hand enough that I know what it feels like. I knew it was hurt, but, at the same time, hand injuries are so common in skiing. You’d be surprised how many guys are operating under a hand injury right now.”
Within a few hours that day, Ligety was in the hospital having four screws inserted into his left hand. He was back on snow shortly, training with one pole. The last three days, he’s been using both poles, and he’s ready to go for the 2014 edition of Birds of Prey.
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Beaver Creek is a very happy place for Ligety. The defending Olympic gold-medalist, two-time defending world champion and five-time World Cup champion in GS, he has won four of his last five starts in the discipline here.
Birds of Prey 2011 was his last “loss” here, when he finished second, behind Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who remains his chief rival for the GS globe. Ligety came back two days later — races scheduled for France that year were moved here — and returned the favor, beating Hirscher by 69-hundredths of a second.
The last two years, the Park City, Utah, native has won the Birds of Prey giant slalom by 1.76 seconds and 1.32 ticks.
Margins are a big topic these days in the giant slalom world. The season started in October in Soelden, Austria, where Hirscher smashed the field. The Austrian beat Germany’s Fritz Dopfer by 1.58 seconds and was a whopping 3.02 seconds ahead of Ligety in 10th.
“He had a great race and I think a lot of other guys didn’t ski that well,” Ligety said of Hirscher. “That’s why the margin was there.”
A rock was also there for Ligety. He crunched his skis on the stone on both runs, but in particularly nasty fashion on the final time down. The rock encounter didn’t rip the edge of his ski off, but sufficiently dulled it so he couldn’t turn well and carry speed down onto the flats of the Soelden course.
“The last split before that, I was in second place easy, and that wouldn’t have been a bad result,” Ligety said. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to catch Marcel. It wasn’t like it was something I was panicking about.”
The splits bear that out. Ligety trailed Hirscher by 19-hundredths after the flip. The Austrian topped the American by 2.83 seconds in the second run, which included the rock.
“Bad luck happens. That’s how it goes on that hill with no snow,” Ligety said. “I was the unlucky one to hit the rock.”
Yes, he is from Utah, yet what’s six or so hours among friends? This is Ligety’s home stop on the World Cup. Despite his left hand’s mishap with the gate and the ensuing screws, Ligety feels like he’s been training well in GS.
While Birds of Prey is being billed as a tune-up for the World Championships, Ligety downplays this week’s importance in the grand scheme of preparing for the big show.
“It’s an indicator, I guess, but it’s not the be all and end all, and it’s still a few months before the World Champs, so it’s not a huge concern,” Ligety said.
Unlike Schladming, Austria, the site of 2013 Worlds, the tour has a GS here every year. The 2012 World Cup Finals was the first time Ligety had ever skied GS there before Worlds. He finished 25th in the trial run before capturing gold at the last Worlds.
On the other hand, he relishes that Worlds will be in North America for the first time in his career.
“It’s going to be great having it here, for sure, and it’s really cool what they’ve done with the stadium here,” Ligety said pointing up at the new grandstands of Red Tail Stadium. “They always do an awesome job on the hill, so it’s always a treat to race here. … The fact that it is on home soil and the Euros are living out of their duffel bags like we have to all the time, it evens the playing field.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.