Miller, Ligety impress in Moscow
MOSCOW, Russia (Jan. 2) – Germany’s Felix Neureuther went head to head against Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Grange in a sudden death race to win a parallel slalom at the Skoda FIS Alpine World Cup Promotional Event in Moscow on Friday. Two-time World Cup overall champion Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) edged Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) in the small final to finish third.
Organizers estimated over 25,000 people attended the FIS alpine promotional event held on a specially constructed ramp towering 183 feet over the heart of the Russian capital.
Skiers raced down a huge manmade scaffold in Moscow. (Getty Images/AFP-Alexey Sazonov)
“It was really cool and just crazy to race on a ramp of that size,” said Ligety, the defending World Cup giant slalom champion. “The scene was awesome. People were packed all around the base of the ramp. They had Euro techno blasting and fireworks shooting out the side of the ramp scaffolding after the competition. It was such a sweet event to be invited to.”
Fourteen of the top athletes on the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup were invited to the promotional event designed to raise awareness for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin joined the athletes for lunch prior to the race and then invited all the competitors to fly with him and President Dmitry Medvedev to Sochi on Saturday for a morning of skiing. The athletes will then continue on the prime minister’s private jet to Zagreb, Croatia for the next World Cup event.
“It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that you just have to take advantage of,” said Ligety. “Putin seemed really down-to-earth and is super into skiing. It was cool just for him to take time out of his schedule to hang out with us and now we get to fly on the Russian equivalent to Air Force One. It’s safe to say that this stuff doesn’t happen everyday. I feel pretty fortunate.”
The fourteen gate head-to-head slalom was held on an enormous ramp measuring nearly 500 feet long and just over 120 feet wide. It was covered with over 140,000 cubic feet of snow that was trucked in from Siberia specifically for the competition.
“They didn’t hold anything back in putting this together,” said U.S. Men’s Alpine Ski Team Head Coach Sasha Rearick, who said additional perks included a tour of the Kremlin and a private chauffer to take he and Ligety sightseeing earlier in the day.
All numbers aside, the competition was incredible with athletes seeded according to their World Cup Start List points. Each pair took a run and swapped courses for second with a time penalty being assessed to the slower racer from the first run. The fastest man down after second run moved on in the March Madness style bracket system.
Ligety handily defeated three-time World Championship medalist Giorgio Rocca in the first duel after Rocca bashed the electronically controlled starting gate in the second run. He then ousted reigning World Cup slalom champion Manfred Moelgg of Italy before falling short to Neureuther and eventually Miller.
“The start was definitely the key. You didn’t want to be the guy held up in the gate for the second run,” said Ligety. “First of all, it was tough enough just to figure out when your gate was going to open, but then you didn’t want to be looking at the other guys back all the way down. There were a lot of guys who are going to have some bruises after smashing into the start gate before it opened. But it was still fun.”
Ligety himself became victim to the start gate in his battle with Miller and after barging the gate too early, fell instantly two gates behind. In the dramatic final Neureuther easily defeated Grange in the first run, then made a big mistake on the flat section of the second run to allow Grange to catch him for a photo-finish tie.
“It was impossible to tell from the photo who won between Felix and Grange, so they headed back up for a sudden death re-run that ended up with Grange crashing into the fence a little and Felix taking out a panel with his head and losing a pole before crossing the finish line for the win. It was pretty cool,” said Ligety.
In total $200,000 in prize money was awarded with Neureuther taking home $30,000 for the win. Both Ligety and Miller earned $10,000 pay days. The Audi FIS Alpine World Cup now moves to Zagreb, Croatia for a women’s slalom on Sunday and a men’s night event slalom set for Jan. 6.
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