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Ligety and Lanning light it up

PAUL ROBBINS , Special to the Record

When they were kids, from the time Mike Sussman was their coach with the Park City Farm Team, Ted Ligety spent a lot of time looking up at T.J. Lanning on race podiums. "I wasn’t the hotshot as a kid. It was always T.K.," Ligety explained.

Thursday, on a cloudy day as the Charles Schwab Birds of Prey races got underway at Beaver Creek, Colo., the two longtime teammates helped light-up another vocal World Cup throng. While Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht repeated his super combined victory from the 2007 World Championships, Ligety and Lanning were two of the three Americans in the top 10.

Albrecht collected his first World Cup win in 2:00.26 while Frenchman Jean Baptiste-Grange earned his first podium, finishing second (2:00.93) and Ondrej Bank of Slovenia also gained his first World Cup podium in third place (2:01.23). Bode Miller, a sometime Park City resident, was fourth in 2:01.28.

Ligety, the Olympic combined gold medalist, seemingly was out of any semblance of contention after the DH. But, turning-in the second-fastest slalom run, he laser-beamed his way from being tied for 39th in downhill to eighth place overall. In the process, he zipped past Lanning, who had been an impressive 17th in the speed run.

It’s always good to beat my childhood nemesis," Ligety laughed in the finish area. Lanning smiled just as widely. When you’ve got your first top-10 finish, as Lanning did, so what if someone about beating you? Life’s still good. They added some extra fun later, posing for photos with tennis great Andre Agassi, who represented official timers Longines and presented awards after the race.

While it a good feeling to smoke the course, Ligety said the sizzling run gives him confidence for Sunday’s giant slalom. "Slalom is about building confidence. I know I’m fast. I can beat these guys … this certainly gives me confidence going into the GS," he said.

As for his frustrating downhill, Ligety made no excuses, but said he needs more time on the longer skis used in downhill. "Things can only get better from here," he said.

"The biggest thing for me is just getting more mileage. A second downhill training run would have helped," he said. The scheduled second run Wednesday was torpedoed by an overnight storm. "I just need more time."

Meanwhile, Lanning was savoring every hint of success from is first sortie into Top-tenville. Once the top junior in the world in slalom and super-G, he’s battled a variety of injuries, which have muffled his potential.

However, healthy a year ago, he scored not only his first World Cup points but his first top-20 when he was 17th in a super-G in Hinterstoder, Austria.

This season, Lanning has shown signs of a breakthrough. He earned downhill and super-G starts with a brilliant final training run last week in Lake Louise; he started 62nd and finished 25th. In the races, though, he was just outside the top 30 and World Cup points – 32nd in downhill, 31st in super-G. Fourth-place finishers get the wooden medal; if you just miss points, you get a mythical wooden spoon

"I was tired of the wooden spoon," Lanning said. "I was just tryin’ to get ‘er done.

He paused and added, "Each run had some mistakes, but for the most part it was a pretty clean day for me. That was my goal – keep it simple and put it through the finish, and it worked just fine.

"The downhill surprised me a little because I had a big mistake up top, but otherwise I felt I skied great. It’s still a learning curve for me. In downhill, you have to let it go; in GS, you don’t have a chance with a big mistake, but in downhill, you shake it off and keep attacking."

The lack of natural snow means the Birds of Prey speed run has some extra punch this season. Instead of big snow dumps, which would have filed depressions in the landscape, and perhaps softened some sections of the steep, the course is more gnarly than ever. Shorter than classic downhills, it built a reputation quickly for its sharp and almost ceaseless drop. No problem for Lanning, though, who has run it

But it didn’t intimidate Lanning. "I’m comfortable here, for sure. Birds of Prey skis differently every time," he said, "but I’ve skied it so much I’m at home here.

"It’s bumpy, definitely bumpy. Every piece of terrain is accentuated…but I like it."

The races continue through the weekend. There’s a super-G today and a giant slalom Sunday. WCSN.com will webcast each race live at http://www.wcsn.com/index.jsp?&affiliateID=tUSSA102507&partnerId=tUSSA102507 .


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