Ted Ligety brings it home on Friday
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — It was nearly 50 degrees at the bottom of the race hill by the time the second run of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships men’s giant slalom race kicked off on Friday. The toll on the snow was evidenced by one racer after another losing their lead when they crossed the finish line. The overall description of the snow on the bottom of the course was “sticky.”
Marcel Hirscher, winner of four of the five of the giant slalom races on the World Cup this season, led the field after the first run.
But then Ted Ligety entered the building … reminding the world not only of why his nickname is “Mr. GS” but also why every poster, card and advertisement for these Beaver Creek races bear his image.
The 30-year-old American pretty much blew the statistics off the chart with his win on Friday. He landed the first U.S. gold medal of these World Championships. It was his fifth consecutive giant slalom win on the Birds of Prey course. He became the only skier to win three consecutive gold medals in the same discipline. And he made it look very pretty.
Shoulder just inches from the ground around every gate, Ligety knew he had to throw down his most aggressive effort for the second run.
He was sitting in fifth place after run No. 1, 0.24 seconds behind Hirscher. When he crossed the finish line in the second run, he had a lead of 1.23 seconds.
German skier Felix Neureuther came down. He skied what he thought was a good run, but it was 1.10 seconds behind Ligety. Then it was France’s Alexis Pinturault. He skied what he believed was a good run and landed 0.88 seconds behind Ligety … enough for the bronze. Then came the last man on course — the guy who has found a way to beat Ligety in the four of the last five GS races and also tied Ligety for the World Cup GS title last season — Marcel Hirscher.
The Austrian wanted it. He hit the first split with a green light. Then he soared through the second split with a green light. The green light flashed on his third split — 0.08 over Ligety. Then the Austrian crossed the finish line. He was 0.45 seconds back … good for silver. But nobody could touch Ligety.
“It was definitely nerve racking watching the other guys come down,” Ligety said. “Marcel has been amazingly strong in giant slalom all season. To see him a couple hundredths ahead in the last split and knowing he’s the kind of guy who can make up time anywhere … it was a huge relief.”
Although Ligety already had every piece of premium hardware known to ski racing: two Olympic gold medals, four World Cup GS crystal globes and five World Championships medals before 2015 — including four golds — he called this fifth Championship gold his “sweetest.”
“I definitely haven’t been skiing as well this year as I have in years past. Getting my butt handed to me by this guy all the time wasn’t that enjoyable,” Ligety said in the post-race press conference, indicating Hirscher sitting next to him. “It’s nice to be able to go home and hit the reset button. It’s nice to get that feeling back … a little of my old self.”
A familiar group
Hirscher was pleased with his silver medal, saying that he absolutely could not have skied any faster.
“It was important to know that Ted had an outstanding run. It was easy to make a decision in the start house. I thought to myself, ‘I have two chances: no medal or go for it,’” the Austrian said. “I skied my personal 100 percent. I’ve given everything. Ted is just skiing brilliant … especially here at Birds of Prey.”
For Pinturault, who has shared many podiums with both Ligety and Hirscher in the last few years, including the bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics, also said he gave it his all Friday for the Championship bronze, not easy considering he was sick in bed with a fever earlier this week.
“I was completely sick with temperature two days ago, in bed all day long,” the Frenchman said. “My goal was to be at the start today. Ted was starting in front of me. I heard everyone down there, ‘Oh Ted! Yeah!’ and I thought he made it. But it doesn’t change anything. You’re just thinking about skiing as fast as possible.”
After the medalists, the rest of the field was well over a second off the winning pace, a scenario not unfamiliar to the world’s best giant slalom skiers.
“There’s Ted, Marcel, Pinturault and then all the other guys,” said Neureuther, who ended up fourth on Friday, 1.10 seconds back. “They just always go for it so hard. When you just don’t push to the limit on every turn, it’s like you have no chance. At every turn they go to the limit. Every turn. It’s so consistent. It’s really hard to beat them. Ted was today in his own league.”