Raich holds off Ligety to win giant slalom | VailDaily.com

Raich holds off Ligety to win giant slalom

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado
BOP Raich GS KA 12-07-08

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” A Birds of Prey full of breathtaking moments, ended with one more on Sunday.

Austria’s Benni Raich made up more than a second on American Ted Ligety during his second run in the giant slalom, stealing the victory from the fan-favorite by 0.01 seconds. Raich’s winning time of 2 minutes, 24.61 seconds included a 1:12.25 performance in his final run compared to Ligety’s 1:13.31.

“When you lose by .01, there are 25,000 different things in mind that could’ve changed the outcome,” Ligety said. “That’s just how it is. That’s what’s cool about skiing, and that’s what’s tough about it.”

Meanwhile, Norway’s Askel Lund Svindal’s dream week in Beaver Creek finished with another podium. Svindal ran 0.61 seconds behind Raich in 2:24.71 for third place. Svindal won both the downhill and super-G earlier in the week, only a year after a career-threatening crash at the event ended his 2007-08 season.

Raich victorious

While Svindal is clearly the story of the 2008 Birds of Prey, Raich deserved the spotlight on Sunday. The victory is the 31st of his career, and his 12th in the GS. This is the second time Raich has won at Beaver Creek, with the other coming in 2005 in the slalom.

Starting his second run 1.05 seconds behind Ligety, Raich went on the attack out of the gate. He hit the first interval in 25.56 seconds, way ahead of Ligety’s 26.06. He kept knocking off time from there, but the race was won at the top of the course.

“If you want to win, you have to push hard,” Raich said.

Even after his superb run, the anxious moments weren’t over for Raich. The 30-year-old went 23rd in the second session, meaning there were still seven skiers left to race when he took over first place. Manfred Moelgg and Massimillano Blardone couldn’t overtake him, then Raich got more than a little help. Both Bode Miller and Daniel Albrecht went out of bounds and did not finish.

When Svindal and Switzerland’s Didier Cuche, the 2007 GS champ at the Birds of Prey, failed to ski past Raich, all that was left was one last skier. Early on, it appeared as if the Ligety would hold on for the title. When he approached the finish line, a biased American crowd held its breath only to let out a collective gasp when the big screen flashed second place by one-hundreth of a second.

“After the lead I had after the first run, I thought I could’ve pulled it out, especially over Raich,” Ligety said. “It’s tough to lose to him, but I feel good nevertheless.”

Gracious Ligety

It would be natural after a tough second-place finish to feel a little sorry for yourself, but there was no hint of that from Ligety. He praised the home crowd, took time to sign autographs, and chatted up fans on the bus ride down from Red Tail.

“It’s fantastic to be on the podium here,” Ligety said. “Even though it’s a second, it’s still a really good day. I’m super-psyched. I’m proud of the way I skied. It’s nice to be able to do in front of the home crowd.”

Ligety should be “super-psyched” with how he skied at the Birds of Prey. Wearing the No. 32 bib on Saturday in the super-G, he skied to a seventh-place finish ” the highest of his career in the event. Sunday, it looked like he would clinch his first win at Beaver Creek. On his first run of the day, Ligety ” wearing the No. 2 bib ” cruised into first and easily held onto that lead by 0.56 seconds.

Before his next try on the course, Ligety said he needed to stay aggressive. Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t quite pay off.

“I didn’t feel like I hung back at all on the second run,” he said. “I wasn’t holding back. I felt like I was skiing well.”

This is the second career podium for Ligety at Beaver Creek after taking third in the 2006 GS. He also placed fourth last year.

The strong weekend for Ligety speaks to his bright future. American coaches want him to concentrate on slalom and GS, but a move to skiing every event in hopes of an overall title isn’t too far away. Ligety won the overall World Cup title in the giant slalom last season.

“Skiing-wise, I’m skiing close to the best I’ve ever skied, if not the best I’ve ever skied,” Ligety said. “I feel like my slalom is going really well right now. I was really happy with the super-G (Saturday).”

Wake up, Askel

Svindal didn’t ask anyone to pinch him after his spectacular three races at the Birds of Prey, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he did. The dream-like return to Beaver Creek came after a serious injury at the 2007 Birds of Prey nearly ended his career.

In all, Svindal picked up 260 World Cup points during the week, giving him a 129-point lead over Austria’s Hermann Maier in the standings, and roughly a margin of 140 points more than the next pack of competitors.

“I’m capable of winning (the overall title),” Svindal said. “(It) looks like Albrecht is capable, Raich, Miller, Cuche, maybe Ted if he eats a little more. But seriously, there are a lot of guys capable of winning the overall.”

Svindal added to his already big lead with a pair of strong runs on Sunday. He finished the first run in third place, and held on for the podium with a run of 1:12.71 on his second try.

“It’s no coincidence that I do well in GS because that’s what I work the most on, for sure,” he said. “Today, it did not feel like a normal day because being on the podium is always something special, but it feels more like a normal day than what happened the past two days.”

Extra gates

After taking second place in the super-G on Saturday, Maier entered the GS wearing the No. 18 bib. Much to the disappointment of the crowd, Maier lost control of his skis and went out of bounds on his first run to end his week at Beaver Creek. Sunday was Maier’s 36th birthday. … American Tim Jitloff continued his strong season in the GS on Sunday. For the second straight GS race on the World Cup circuit, Jitloff made the flip and finished in the points (24th). … Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud skied the fastest second run in the GS, finishing in 1:12.04. He nearly made the podium, but ended up taking fourth.

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or ismith@vaildaily.com.

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