Ligety leads Americans in ninth place at FIS Alpine World Ski Championships
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK – American racers had an eventful day in the men’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships super-G race on Thursday, which kicked off with a moment of silence for U.S. Ski Team development athletes Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle, who were killed in an avalanche in Soelden, Austria last month.
By race time, the snow and wind from earlier in the week was replaced with 45-degree temperatures and bright sun.
While defending super-G champion Ted Ligety had the best finish of the U.S. contingent in ninth place, the big story of the day, typical whenever this man is in the start house, was Bode Miller.
Bode blows out
Competing in his first race since back surgery in November, during which pieces of cartilage resembling Lego pieces were extracted from his back, the 37-year-old New Hampshire native, in typical fashion, had everyone’s lower jaw hanging during his run.
Starting No. 9, Miller, who had only done downhill training runs on the World Cup in January before announcing his start in the world championships, was charging down the Birds of Prey course — considered by many racers to be the most difficult super G on the World Cup tour — with a solid lead. He was ahead by 0.56 seconds at the second split, and going into the Abyss, the dark, flat section of the course, he still held a 0.12-second lead.
It was then that he hooked his left arm on a gate, which stripped the pole out of his hand and spun him around. He hit the snow hard with his head and back and slid several hundred feet. He then skied to the bottom by his own power but had a massive gash on his left calf, apparently from slicing it on his ski.
“He had an amazing run,” said U.S. teammate Travis Ganong, who was another medal hopeful coming into Thursday’s race, but took an odd line near Pumphouse and missed a gate. “It was good to see him push it. That’s the first run I’ve seen him push all year. He was right in there. When I talked to him after the run he said his whole body was numb and everything hurt. His back is definitely not feeling well. He said he had to get like a hundred stitches in his calf. I hope the best for him.”
Ganong said the whole team, himself included, was pushing its limits. The snow, which he described as softened by warmed temperatures and “ball-y,” threw a monkey wrench into his race line plan.
Ligety, who, due to his defending title status, the team had to thank for its five starting spots in Thursday’s race, was the only American happy with his race. Ligety’s ninth-place finish was 0.70 seconds off of Austrian Hannes Reichelt’s winning time, but the Park City, Utah, racer actually held the lead by 0.04 seconds at the first split.
“I felt like I skied pretty well,” Ligety said. “I was really good on the top section which is the steeper, more technical side of things. With it snowing so much over the last couple of days, those flat sections were definitely really soft and when I weigh 30 pounds less than most of my competitors, especially the more speed-oriented guys, I’m going to pay huge there.”
The other Americans, two-time Olympic super-G medalist Andrew Weibrecht and downhill specialist Steven Nyman, had some technical issues on-course and also lost speed in their runs, tying for 20th place, 1.44 seconds off of the win.
Weibrecht, who came into the race with an impressive fifth-place result in the Kitzbuehel, Austria, super-G, caught an edge at the top of the course, scrubbing some speed and then made up more than a half a second before again catching his skis at the bottom of the course.
“If I was to do it again, I would dull them out a little bit, especially my tails. I was really getting gripped and pushed by the tail of my ski,” Weibrecht said. “But there’s no way to predict that perfectly every time. You gotta go hard and give it your best shot. This was a little disappointing today.”
Nyman, who’s had a tremendous comeback season on the World Cup downhill circuit, beginning with his third-place finish in December here at Beaver Creek and following up with a win in Val Gardena, Italy, and a fifth place in the Kitzbuehel downhill, was also disappointed with his race on Wednesday, struggling in the loose, clumpy snow.
“They warned us that it’s ball-y and weird. I’m not that good in that type of snow,” Nyman said. “I’m actually proud with the way I skied the top. My super-G is getting better and better. I didn’t have the highest expectations. But downhill is coming up and that’s my forte.”
U.S. Ski Team head coach Sasha Rearick also described Thursday’s super-G performance “somewhat disappointing” and couldn’t provide further input on Miller’s status other than that the veteran’s injuries were being assessed at Vail Valley Medical Center. When asked if Miller would race in Saturday’s downhill, Rearick said “I hope so” but would await the medical evaluation.
“Bode was skiing outstanding, absolutely sending it,” Rearick said. “He took risks, he was putting down a run that inspired the world. He caught an arm on the gate, it spun him around in an instant and he took a really nasty crash.”
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