Among Ted Ligety's 19 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup wins are some stunning victories. But his epic battle with teammate Bode Miller Sunday in the Birds of Prey giant slalom at Beaver Creek in front of family, friends and a live national television audience was one for the ages. It was an athletic outcome from which legacy is made. Birds of Prey has a habit of doing that.
It was the fourth straight year Ligety has won in Beaver Creek. And it matched him with Miller at four Birds of Prey wins. The matchup brought back memories of December 2005, when Miller took the GS win with teammate Daron Rahlves right behind in second. And it rekindled those magnificent U.S. Ski Team faceoffs from 2003-06 when Miller and Rahlves traded off downhill wins with Utah's Steven Nyman even sneaking in for a downhill podium in 2007.
"I've always loved this hill," said Ligety. "It's great to have my family and friends here for this. I'm just so psyched to get a win."
Whether it's family and friends or just the familiarity with the hill, Beaver Creek has been kind to the U.S. Ski Team. Since its debut in 1997 on the eve of the 1999 World Championships, six different U.S. Ski Team athletes have combined for 11 wins and 24 podiums.
But as impressive as Ted Ligety was in his fourth straight World Cup GS win, it was Bode Miller who really opened some eyes. It had been seven years since Miller stood on a World Cup GS podium. And he did it classic Bode style risking it all, recovering from hip checks and literally throwing his skis down the fall line hell bent for the finish.
"Even though I maybe took a little too much risk and made some mistakes, I really wanted to ski 100 percent," said Miller. "That's why I did the work I did in the summer. I'm ready to ski as hard as I can now, and I think to be able to beat somebody like Ted, that's what you have to do. You have to be able to go absolutely 100 percent top to bottom with no mistakes and no fatigue. Today the fitness is there. Without the mistakes we'll be there."
"Sharing the podium with Bode is awesome," added Ligety.
Ted won it in classic Ted style beautifully arced turns, leveraging every ounce of speed out of his skis with every gate. And he needed to, with Miller putting down the gauntlet knocking Austrian Marcel Hirscher off the podium. Hirscher's grimace on national television told the story.
"This is a tough hill to make speed on and to try to close a gap," explained Miller. "So I knew after the first run that it was probably unlikely to beat Ted. He's just a really clutch performer in those kind of situations. But I wanted to make sure that when I got to the finish line I at least let him know that I was coming for him and that there's no coasting."
Miller and Ligety are each Olympic champions. And each has a mission this Olympic season. For Miller, it's a comeback at age 36, after a season and a half away, to try to win one more time on the world's biggest stage in Sochi. For Ligety, who swept to an impressive three gold medals at last February's World Championships, it's a bid to set aside the disappointment of Vancouver and rekindle that feeling he had as a 21-year-old in Torino when he won his Olympic gold.
If Beaver Creek is any indicator, we're in for an exciting matchup this February.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.