Ligety and Albrecht savor the moment at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK – Nice guys finish do indeed finish first – and 21st.
Sunday’s Birds of Prey giant slalom was an infinitely-satisfying ending for this year’s brief (at least, in terms of racing) local World Cup stop.
American Ted Ligety delivered what the home crowd wanted – a win in the giant slalom – and Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht reminded us of the simple pleasure of doing something one loves.
The latter will probably be a footnote to Sunday’s race. It shouldn’t. It’s every bit the big story that Ligety’s victory is. Albrecht went off the last jump in a training run in Kitzbuehel, Austria, on Jan. 22, 2009, and, by most accounts, is lucky to be alive.
Google “Daniel Albrecht” and the video clip is still there. Albrecht goes off the jump, and, while in midair, is thrown back on his skis. He hits the ground on the back of his neck. The skis release, but Albrecht flips forward after his first contact with the snow, sickenly slamming his face again into the ice.
Somehow, the medical crew was able to revive him that day, working on him for about 20 minutes on-site before he was ferried out by a chopper. But that was just the beginning.
His doctors induced Albrecht into a coma for three weeks to allow the damage to his head and lungs to heal. Albrecht’s knees were also blown out, but that seemed somewhat trivial in light of his other injuries.
If you watch the video of the crash, you wonder why the now-24-year-old would ever want to come back. This was not like when you’re a kid, and you fell off your bike, and your father said, “Get back on the horse, son.”
Albrecht had won four World Cup races, as well as a 2007 World Championship gold in super-combined. That’s enough for most, who would likely think, “I got through that crash and can still live a normal live. I’m done with ski racing.”
Yet, Albrecht was back Sunday – and racing well. While the crowd, media and fellow racers seemed to be holding their collective breath until he got past Red Tail, and it was clear that he was going to finish without incident, most forgot that he was easily within the top 30, and making the flip.
Albrecht savored the moment, looking skyward and acknowledging the crowd’s boisterous support with a wave. And then he got back to doing what he loved, finishing 21st and earning 10 World Cup points. In a time when most take the normal for granted, Albrecht reminded us to appreciate the here and now.
Meanwhile, Ligety’s present tense Sunday was a little bit of all right. Measured down to the hundredth of a second, ski racing can be cruel, as Ted discovered in 2008 when he fell short of a Birds of Prey win by that margin.
Putting even more pressure on Ligety is the fact that he’s got only one home race every year to try to accomplish what he did Sunday. Do the math – 365 days are compressed into 155-160 seconds on a random day in December, and you have to be perfect. (By the way, finishing third, fourth, second and fourth here that last four years is pretty stunning in itself.)
Ligety not only won, but did so with panache. He hammered that first run, and got stronger as the second progressed. The crowd noticed green numbers at the interval splits at Golden Eagle and The Abyss with louder roars.
What was even more stunning is that was those numbers increased. He added a half-a-second to his lead from The Abyss to the finish. Where others lost time, Ligety slammed the door. Winning by 86-hundredths was not only just a win, but a rout.
But, with the exception of Sunday’s ear-to-ear grin which would make a dentist proud, Ligety remains the same guy who lost to Austria’s Benni Raich by the slimmest of margins two years ago. When he lost by a cuticle two years ago – or is an eyelash a hundredth? – he answered every question from the press patiently and signed everything put in front of him by kids of all ages. (And those autographs are a big thing for a kid, never forget that.)
When you handle a moment of defeat like that, you deserve a moment like Ligety had Sunday, and there was no questioning he was enjoying the here and now.
Just like Albrecht did.
Just like we all did.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.
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