Rocca wins slalom; Ligety finishes career-best third |

Rocca wins slalom; Ligety finishes career-best third

The Associated Press

AP PhotoU.S. racer Ted Ligety, of Park City, Utah, skis the second run to a third place finish in the Men's World Cup Slalom at Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, Dec 4, 2005.

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Giorgio Rocca of Italy skied a clean second run in icy and snowy conditions Sunday to win the World Cup season’s first slalom, and Ted Ligety of the United States finished a career-best third.Rocca, who figures to be one of the host country’s top medal hopes in Alpine skiing at the Turin Olympics in February, completed two runs on the Birds of Prey course in an unofficial time of 1 minute, 51.72 seconds.But his victory and Ligety’s podium placing weren’t secure until first-run leader Benjamin Raich of Austria, the slalom world champion, skied off course late in the second run. Raich was ahead of Rocca’s pace at the first time interval.”Beni was fast in the second run, but the race finishes at the finish line,” Rocca said.Stephane Tissot of France, 20th after the first run, had the fastest second run and finished second in 1:52.58.

Ligety, a 21-year-old from Park City, Utah, was never better than eighth in a World Cup race before Sunday. He was 12th in the first run but third-fastest in the second and wound up with a combined time of 1:52.60.That was good enough for a spot on the podium because five of the 11 skiers who followed him in the second run failed to finish.”I kept looking up, and I kept seeing my name in second place,” Ligety said, a bronze medal hanging around his neck. “Just a lot of luck.”He was 15th in last year’s Beaver Creek slalom, a result that gave him increased confidence.”I always aim pretty high,” Ligety said. “I’m not entirely surprised” with his performance Sunday.

Reigning overall World Cup champion Bode Miller didn’t qualify for the second run. Eight of the first 20 skiers, and 28 of 74, failed to finish the opening run, including 2002 Olympic slalom gold medalist Jean-Pierre Vidal.With the temperature dropping to zero, snow falling and wind swirling, visibility and traction were even poorer in the second run.”There was a strong gust of wind that suddenly blew into me and I lost my line,” Raich said. “The snow was blowing so hard. It’s disappointing, because apart from that, everything was going well. I was on my way to the victory.”He won gold in the combined and the slalom at the 2005 World Championships, and added a silver in the giant slalom and a bronze in the super-G. He also was the World Cup slalom and giant slalom champion, and finished second to Miller in the 2004-05 overall standings.Miller missed a gate about 20 seconds into his opening run, then hiked back up to where he went off-course and completed the run for practice.

“It’s just bad balance, more than anything,” Miller said. “But the combinations are incredibly close today. They’re really quick, which normally is good for me, but today I wasn’t feeling very quick on my feet.”It put a bit of a closing damper on the four-race Beaver Creek stop for Miller, who won Saturday’s giant slalom and was second to U.S. teammate Daron Rahlves in Friday’s downhill. Miller failed to finish the super-G on Thursday.In the giant slalom, Miller led a 1-2-4 American finish, with Rahlves second and Erik Schlopy fourth despite breaking a bone in his left hand when it slammed into a gate during the first run.Schlopy pulled out of Sunday’s slalom because of the injury.The men’s circuit will head to Europe until the Olympics, starting next weekend at Val d’Isere, France.