Ligety grabs leader bib at Beaver Creek
It’s a case of severe mixed emotions.
As the men’s side of the Audi Alpine World Cup circuit heads to Austria this week, Parkite Ted Ligety is the giant slalom points leader. That’s the Good News, even if it’s after only two races.
The Bad News? Ligety lifted the bib Sunday from Aksel Lund Svindal, the popular Norwegian who is the defending World Cup overall champion and the reigning GS world champion. And he’s a friend of Ligety.
Svindal never made it to the second GS of the season. He’ll have to try again next season because a downhill training crash last Tuesday on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey speed run sidelined him for the winter; he broke bones in his face and suffered a bad cut in his lower body at the posh Colorado resort.
When the giant slalom was held Sunday, Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht won his second race in four days at Beaver Creek and Ligety was fourth. Coupled with his second-place finish at Soelden, Austria, in late October, it boosted him to the GS lead. Six giant slaloms remain in the 2008 season.
"I’m super psyched to get the red bib, but I’d have rather taken it off Aksel’s back rather than get it this way," Ligety said. A year ago, Ligety was third in the Birds of Prey GS.
That wasn’t the only Park City angle in the U.S. success at Beaver Creek. Steven Nyman, who shifted from the Sundance racing program to the Park City Ski Team, was second Friday in the downhill, extending to six straight seasons that a U.S. Ski Tam guy has reached the Beaver Creek downhill podium; the victory streak was ended at four straight races, but Nyman kept the podium string alive.
A look-back at snowy Beaver Creek where organizers were able to squeeze four days of racing into five, thanks to Mother Nature:
Thursday (super combined) – Albrecht, the surprise gold medal-winner last February in super combi at the 2007 World Championships in Sweden, produced an astounding slalom run; fourth in the downhill portion, he started 17th in the slalom – and slashed his way to victory in victory in 2:00.26 with Jean-Baptiste Grange of France second (2:00.93).
Bode Miller, skiing independently this season as Team America, was fourth in 2:01.28 and Ligety, a disappointed tie for 35th in the downhill, heated up the crowd as he attacked from the back – rocketing into eighth place. T.J. Lanning, another Park City product, earned his first top-10 result, finishing 10th while Andrew Weibrecht picked off his first World Cup points, finishing 14th.
Friday (downhill) – Snow and wind compelled organizers to lower the start. The snow continued intermittently through the race – Nyman went when it was pelting; others raced in clear conditions.
The Austrian men have struggled early in the season, but Michael Walchhofer ended their pain in the downhill as he overtook Nyman, who had run eighth and held off every challenge…until Walchoofer, running 16th, stole the show.
Walchhofer won in 1:13.74 with Nyman just five-hundredths back. Miller (1:14.10) was sixth and Weibrecht broke into the top 10 for the first time.
It was Nyman’s third straight second-place DH finish in Beaver Creek – Tuesday in training, Thursday in the downhill side of the super combi and then Friday in the DH.
"I hit it like I wanted to hit it. I nailed the line just right," Nyman said. "I’m so stoked with my run because I did what I wanted to do…
"I focused on what I could control. I couldn’t do anything with the way anyone else raced, so I just focused on my run." Nyman hit his first World Cup podium at Beaver Creek last season and two weeks later won his first race in Val Gardena, Italy; he’ll be racing the next DH in Val Gardena on Dec. 15.
Weibrecht also lit-up the crowd. Starting 53rd, he tore down the course and finished 10th. From no World Cup points to his first top-15 performance and, 24 hours later, his first top-10 result.
"It was a wild ride," he laughed. "The snow was wet and it was sticking to my goggles," but somehow he stayed on course and made it to the finish.
Saturday (super-G) – Oops, an overnight storm left more than a foot of snow. Officials, who had been expecting the snowfall, decided early to postpone the race to Monday.
Sunday (GS) – Albrecht again, this time victorious with a two-run time of 2:24.30. Mario Matt of Austria was second (2:24.35) and Didier Cuche of Switzerland completed the podium, another .06 out.
Ligety and Max Blardone of Italy tied for fourth in 2:24.45 with Park City’s Erik Schlopy 21st as he continued to rebound from another knee injury last season.
Monday (the rescheduled super-G) – If Walchhofer brought some smiles to his countrymen (and women) with his downhill triumph, the super-G must have electrified the ski-nutty nation. Austria men went 1-2-3 and tied for fifth.
Hannes Reichhelt, the 2006 SG winner, did it again, skiing first and watching as everyone came up short. Second went to Mario Scheiber, just .02 away from the win, and Benni Raich was third.
Ligety banked his first World Cup points in super-G, finishing 23rd. Miller was the only other U.S. skier in the top 30, finishing 30th.
"The opportunity was there and we didn’t take advantage of it," said Chris Brigham, men’s speed head coach, said. The race crew did a "fantastic job" in preparing the course, he said, and the Americans "just didn’t get it done."
This was the lone men’s visit to the USA this winter. They’ll return to Canada for the first look at the 2010 Olympic courses at Whistler Mountain; the men will race a giant slalom and super-G in late February.
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