With drama this time, Ted Ligety wins GS
BEAVER CREEK — Ted apparently can do comebacks at Birds of Prey giant slaloms as well.
After commanding wins in 2012 and 2013 — essentially after the first run — Ted Ligety came back from a 0.25-second deficit after the flip to top France’s Alexis Pinturault by 18-hundreds of a second and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher (6-tenths) on Sunday for his third straight Birds of Prey giant-slalom win, and fifth in six starts, at Beaver Creek.
“Second run, I definitely was a lot cleaner,” Ligety said. “The first run, I was maybe a little grindy. I was pushing a little too hard on the bottom of the turn. Maybe, in a sense, reaching for it, just trying a little too hard. Second, run, I let myself relax and ski more the way I know I can ski.”
Ligety put down a time of 1 minute, 18.12 seconds in his second run out of the fourth-to-last position. He built his lead on the top section, where most of the field lost time. He brought it home with graceful turns and then had to wait out runs by Hirscher, Pintaurault and Austria’s Benjamin Raich, who had the lead after the first run.
As the final three came down in red numbers, the crowd at Red Tail Stadium started to sense another win from Ligety.
And that’s is Ligety’s 23rd career GS World Cup win which ties him for second all time in the discipline with Switzerland’s Michel van Gruenigen.
“I never guessed I’d be anywhere close to him as a kid,” said Ligety, who said he grew up watching Van Gruenigen in World Cup events in Park City, Utah.
In 2013, Ligety led by 78-hundredths and went on to win by 1.32 seconds over Bode Miller. The year before, he was up by nearly a second (0.97), and torched the field by 1.76 seconds. (Hirscher was second that year).
The last time Ligety before Sunday trailed in GS on this course was between runs of a Dec. 6, 2011, race, transplanted to Beaver Creek from France. And surprisingly enough, he won that day, too. (Hirscher won the official Birds of Prey GS two days earlier, which is why Ligety has won his last four starts here, but only three in a row at Birds of Prey.)
Ligety clearly looked off during his first run and was trailing by as much as half-a-second by the second-to-last-interval. It was apparently just a matter of getting used to hard snow in GS after soft-snow training.
“That bottom section, I’ve always had a lot of success on it. I’ve been fast there the last couple of years,” Ligety said. “I think the top part of the course, I was struggling to adjust to the snow and getting back in GS on hard snow I haven’t skied GS without being on soft snow on the warm-up courses. Once I had the adjustment toward the bottom, it was easier to get going a little bit better.”
In that stretch he cut the lead to 0.25 seconds, setting up his blazing finale.
While Ligety and Hirscher have an established rivalry in the GS, they might have to make room for Pinturault. The Frenchman was third in the Soelden, Austria, giant slalom and second here.
“Hirscher and Pinturault, those guys are amazing skiers,” Ligety said. “Those guys are guys I love to watch ski. To be able to get in front of them is nice, especially being the old guy of bunch.”
Yes, he just said that. Pinturault is 23, Hirscher 25 and Ligety is looking for a wheel chair at 30. But all is fair in love and war and trying to psych out your opponent.
For the record, Hirscher leads the GS standings after two races with 160 points, ahead of Pinturault (140) and Ligety (126).
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud leaves Beaver Creek as the World Cup overall leader with 412 points. Three-time defending World Cup overall champion Hirscher is second with 240.
And to hear Hirscher talk about it, all is lost when it comes to the Norwegian.
“I think it is a tough fight,” Hirscher said. “Right now, there is no chance against Kjetil.”
To be fair, Hirscher, had he gone to college, probably would have majored in drama. Every year at Beaver Creek, the Austrian has ceded the title of “Mr. GS,” to Ligety, only to battle him to the bitter end for the globe.
“It’s a good tactic,” Hirscher said to laughter in the post-race news conference.