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Ligety exits quietly, Hirscher brilliant again

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Marcel Hirscher, the Austrian ski god, is finally having his moment. King of the World Cup tour for the past seven seasons, on Sunday Hirscher won his second Olympic gold, in the giant slalom.

Hirscher had won a grand total of no Olympic medals, nada, zip, zero in two prior Games. Now he might — could, should — win three here at PyeongChang. The slalom, another Hirscher specialty, is due to be run Thursday.

To watch Hirscher ski is to watch one of the great athletes of our — or any — time. Like being courtside in Chicago to see Michael Jordan back in the day. At Wimbledon for a Roger Federer volley. At the Water Cube in Beijing in 2008 when Michael Phelps was swimming the butterfly.

In Sunday’s race, Kristoffersen finished second, 1.27 seconds back of Hirscher. Pinturault finished third, 1.31 behind.

American racer Ted Ligety used to own this event: the Sochi 2014 giant slalom gold medalist, he was world champion in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Pinturault took Sochi 2014 bronze.

Considering his relatively low slalom ranking and the pounding that slalom demands, Sunday’s GS was — just like that, that quickly, that quietly — likely the final race of Ligety’s outstanding Olympic career.

“This is probably it for me at these Games,” he said after run two, adding that he is planning to head back to Europe, to race the remainder of the World Cup season.

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Marcel Hirscher leads GS; defending champ Ted Ligety trails

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Austria’s Marcel Hirscher leads by a commanding .63 seconds after the first of two giant slalom runs at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hirscher, the reigning giant slalom world champion, is in position to win his second gold medal in PyeongChang, after claiming the combined title.

American Ted Ligety, who is nicknamed “Mr. GS,” is a distant 2.44 seconds behind Hirscher.

“I just sucked,” Ligety said on NBC.

Ligety is hoping to become the first man to successfully defend an Olympic giant slalom gold medal since Italy’s Alberto Tomba in 1992.

Standings after the first run

1. Marcel Hirscher (Austria)
2. Alexis Pinturault (France) +.63 seconds
3. Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (Norway) +.66 seconds
4. Riccardo Tonetti (Italy) +.75 seconds
5. Mathieu Faivre (France) +.79 seconds

Ted Ligety, back from injuries, notches first podium in two years

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Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety ended the longest U.S. men’s podium drought in 19 years and a personal drought of more than two years on Sunday.

Just in time with the Olympics in two weeks.

Ligety, who ended his last two seasons early due to injuries, finished third in the last World Cup giant slalom before the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Austrian Marcel Hirscher won by 1.57 seconds over countryman Manuel Feller. Ligety was 1.69 back.

Full results are here.

Hirscher, the overwhelming Olympic favorite, has won four of the five traditional GS races this season and made all 13 World Cup GS podiums since the start of the 2016-17 season.

“The only thing I can do there [at the Olympics] is losing,” Hirscher, the six-time World Cup overall champion whose only missing prize is Olympic gold, laughed after his 10th win this season, “because everyone is expecting that I’m going to win there.”

Hirscher also won his 55th career World Cup race, passing countryman Hermann Maier for solo second all-time on the men’s list behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86 victories).

It was Ligety’s first podium since Dec. 5, 2015.

Ligety dealt with myriad injuries since winning his second Olympic gold in Sochi and a third straight world title in the giant slalom in 2015.

The 33-year-old suffered three herniated disks in his back and tore a hip labrum in 2015. Then he tore his right ACL in training on Jan. 27, 2016. He underwent season-ending back surgery on Jan. 25, 2017.

The last U.S. man to make a World Cup podium was Travis Ganong, who won a downhill in Garmisch on Jan. 27, 2017. Ganong is out for the season due to a December torn ACL.

“There’s still some things to do,” Ligety said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “It’s nice that we have a couple of weeks here before the giant slalom at the Olympics, so we can figure out those next steps. We’re still a little bit off, and I have to find that next step and be really fast. I’m not going to sit here and be psyched on this — I’m going to move forward and keep working.”

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