Rocca puts down best dance in slalom
BEAVER CREEK – Italian Giorgio Rocca gave a telling demonstration of what the home team is capable of in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino.Bode Miller fell out of the contest in the first run and many other slalom superstars – Olympic medalist Jean-Pierre Vidal, Rainer Schoenfelder and defending champion, Benjamin Raich – were eaten by the course. But Rocca won the World Cup slalom at Beaver Creek by almost a second Sunday, with a two run combined finish time of 1 minute, 51.72 seconds.”I am very, very, very happy for this race,” said Rocca, who was shifted to second in last year’s Birds of Prey slalom when Raich, who went down on one of the last gates in what could very well have been his second winning run Sunday, took gold.
“I must now do more work because the other guys are very fast and because we have the Olympic Games in Italy. It’s the top event of the season.”It was the seventh career World Cup slalom victory for the 30 year old, who also took two bronze medals in last year’s World Championship combined and slalom races.”It was a difficult race,” Rocca said. “We (did) the race (less than) 100 percent. In the second run, it was snowing, windy and cold.”Even before gusts shot up the course in the second run, the first-run course sidelined a whopping half of the initial 15 that attempted it. Some racers said they felt the biggest challenge was the close proximity of the gates, which didn’t phase Rocca.
“In difficult races, you have a test,” he said. “(The gates) are no problem for me. To me, slalom is dancing.”A couple of fresh faces joined Rocca on the podium. France’s Stephane Tissot, who took silver Sunday with a time of 1:52.58, and Utah’s bronze finisher Ted Ligety (1:52.60) landed the best results of their ski careers to date.New to the podiumBoth surged ahead in the first run despite non-ideal starting positions in the first run. Ligety was the 27th racer down the course and Tissot the 35th.
“I just let go,” said Tissot, sporting an ear-to-ear grin before stepping onto the second step of the podium. “I (did) what I’ve done before in training and it was a perfect race. No mistakes. The course was perfect. The first run was more difficult because I was No. 35 and I (knew) I needed no mistakes. I tried to ski the second run my best. Everything was going right. It’s a great feeling. I can’t believe it.”Ligety finished just 0.02 seconds behind the Frenchman, and occupied spot No. 2 for a few racers until Rocca knocked Tissot out of the leader’s box. When Raich, the last racer down, was burning up the course with a lead during his final run, it looked as if the 21-year-old American was going to be runner-up to the podium. Then Raich swiveled sideways on the fifth-to-the-last of the second run’s 66 gates, and the bronze belonged to the Park City kid.”I kept looking up and seeing my name in second place,” Ligety said. “It was pretty unbelievable. Then I started to realize there were only a few guys left to go and it was going to be a top-five finish. Then Benni went out. I thought for sure he would have knocked me out. A lot of luck played into it.”Then again, Ligety landed an eight-place in the giant slalom season opener in Soelden, Austria, and beat Rocca and many other World Cup tech masters in last week’s NorAms at Keystone. Arguably, Ligety also had the best crash in Saturday’s GS at Beaver Creek when he went end-over-end at the top of the course. The fall left him sore to start Sunday’s slalom, but also hungry for redemption.
“The first run I felt like I should have given it a little harder,” Ligety said. “I let it go the second run. It’s fun to hang out there. You can feel your skis bite. I’d say I usually try to give it as hard as I can, but I did that (Saturday) and I kind of imploded. It works and it doesn’t work sometimes.”Recipe for doom or successAccording to U.S. Men’s Tech Team coach Mike Morin, risky skiing is what it took to succeed on the slalom course Sunday, but also what accounted for the roughly 25-percent attrition rate.
“The course conditions were outstanding, but really tricky,” Morin said. “We saw a lot of guys going out of the course because we had some of those bumpy, icy conditions. You see a lot of DNFs pop up there because some guys (risk too much). It was impressive to see Ted’s second run laying it on the line in those variable conditions. When there’s changes like that, it’s hard to take risks.”The determination award of the day went to Miller who slid on his side, missing a gate halfway down the first run, but stopped and hiked it in a vain attempt to make the second-run cut. Fourth place overall Sunday landed in a three-way tie between Austria’s Mario Matt, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud and Japan’s Akira Sasaki.Croatian phenom Ivica Kostelic finished seventh, Norway’s Lars Myhre and Aksel Lund Svindal finished eighth and ninth, respectively, and Swiss racer Silvan Zurbriggen was 10th.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.