Defending GS champ Ted Ligety takes World Cup opener in Austria
SOELDEN, Austria — Ted Ligety maintained his dominance in the giant slalom by winning the season-opening World Cup race Sunday while Bode Miller finished 19th in his return to the circuit following a 20-month injury layoff.
Ligety, who won six of eight races last season and defended his world title in the giant slalom, won by 0.79 seconds. The American led by 0.90 seconds after the first run and had a total time of 1 minute, 59.50 seconds.
Alexis Pinturault of France was second and overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria was 1.02 behind in third.
“This hill’s always suiting me well.” Ligety said. “It’s nice to be able to consistently do well here.”
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While winning his 18th career title — all in giant slalom — Ligety became the first to win the season opener in three straight years. He also matched Austrian great Hermann Maier’s three victories on the Rettenbach glacier in 1998, 2000 and 2005.
Miller started 32nd and trailed Ligety by 2.33 seconds after the opening run. The American standout wasn’t happy with his skiing in his first race since Feb. 2012 after sitting out the entire 2012-13 season because of an injured left knee.
“It just was sloppy. I didn’t ski that bad, actually,” Miller said. “I skied better than I did the first run, just less things were in my favor. The light and the wind is swirling all around. On the bottom I could feel it wasn’t going downhill at that point.”
Miller added he had been “skiing a lot faster than that in training. But it’s different in races. You have to get a good start position first. But getting some points is good.”
Last year, Ligety won the season opener by 2.75 seconds, the biggest winning margin in GS since the 1970s, and went on to dominate the entire season.
He acknowledged he wasn’t “super confident” following summer training that had been hampered by poor weather in New Zealand and Chile.
“Last year we had an awesome prep there, but this year was less so, so I wasn’t a hundred percent confident of how I was skiing,” he said. “But then we had good training here in Soelden the last couple of weeks and I started to feel a little better.”
The first run gave Ligety the confirmation he was looking for. Starting third, he demonstrated his flawless technique from top to bottom once more, beating then-leader Pinturault at every split.
The start was lowered because of fierce wind, shortening the run by about 15 seconds. A race on the full course would likely have given Ligety an even bigger lead.
“I was clean the whole way,” he said. “I felt good.”
He consolidated his lead by posting the 14th best time in the final run, when clouds moved in and visibility worsened.
“That’s always how it is here. Because it’s dark and you can’t really see how bumpy it is,” Ligety said. “Second run had a couple of tricky spots. … That made it a little more difficult. I was just happy to make the finish line and see the green light.”
Steve Missillier of France was the fastest in the final run and climbed to fourth, a position he shared with former overall champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
Pinturault and Hirscher each took one of the two GS races Ligety didn’t win last season. Hirscher lost by three seconds to Ligety a year ago and reduced that deficit by two-thirds this time.
“Ted is still incredibly fast,” the Austrian said. “The deficit is still huge but compared to last, it’s almost nothing.”
Miller was happy to be back and said his conditioning wasn’t a problem.
“I wasn’t tired at all. I think my fitness is higher now for a World Cup than it’s ever been for sure,” he said. “It was exciting. I was nervous. I want to win. I definitely have the fire when I get in there. I feel like I have a good skill set. … I think I have the ability now to ski on a whole different level. And I want to do that.”
Except for his first appearance on this course in 2000, when he didn’t finish the second run, Miller had always been in the top 10.
Just before the start of the final run, former World Cup slalom champion and two-time Olympic bronze medalist Rainer Schoenfelder bid farewell to fans, a day after announcing his retirement.
The 36-year-old Austrian leisurely skied down the course, stopping several times to greet coaches and officials. Schoenfelder took the season-long World Cup title in 2004 and won two silver medals at the 2005 worlds and two bronze at the 2006 Turin Games.
The men’s World Cup resumes with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 17.
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