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Ted Ligety leads 3 more Alpine skiers qualifying for Olympic team

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Two-time gold medalist Ted Ligety qualified for his fourth Olympic Alpine skiing team on Saturday.

Tommy Ford and Megan McJames, two more Olympic veterans, are also going to PyeongChang in the giant slalom.

They join Mikaela Shiffrin, who qualified in December, as the first four members of the Olympic team.

Ligety, 33, won surprise combined gold in 2006 and then the giant slalom in 2014. The five-time world champion has been set back by injuries since Sochi, last making a podium in December 2015.

Ligety is the top finisher on an underwhelming U.S. men’s Alpine team this season. He was fifth and seventh in a pair of December giant slaloms.

Ligety straddled a gate in the second run of Saturday’s giant slalom in Switzerland after placing eighth in the first run.

The Olympic giant slalom favorites are led by longtime Ligety rival Marcel Hirscher of Austria.

Hirscher, a six-time World Cup overall champion eyeing his first Olympic gold, has won the last three World Cup GS season titles.

The other GS medal favorites include Frenchman Alexis Pinturault and Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen.

Ford, 28, made his second Olympic team thanks to a 10th-place finish in a giant slalom earlier this season. Ford was 26th in the 2010 Olympic GS.

McJames, 30, made her third Olympic team because she’s the only U.S. woman other than Shiffrin to finish in the top 30 of a giant slalom this season.

McJames was 30th and 32nd in the last two Olympic giant slaloms.

More than a dozen more Alpine skiers, including Lindsey Vonn, are expected to join the Olympic team in the next two weeks.

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Hirscher storms back to win World Cup GS, Ligety takes 7th (video)

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Lounging on the couch with his broken left ankle in a cast, Marcel Hirscher felt something he hadn’t in a long time — no pressure.

Now that he’s back on the slopes with his ankle mended and returning to his winning ways, that familiar tension has returned.

The six-time overall World Cup champion can’t escape the one glaring omission from his impressive resume: an Olympic gold.

He insisted he doesn’t give it a second thought heading to PyeongChang. Still, all eyes will be on him constantly between now and February.

Especially after a performance like Sunday’s. The Austrian standout stormed back from a first-run deficit to win a World Cup giant slalom race on an afternoon when rival Ted Ligety struggled.

Hirscher finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 37.30 seconds to show he’s getting back up to speed after breaking his ankle in a training accident in August. Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was second, 0.88 seconds back, and first-run leader Stefan Luitz of Germany took third.

“Today I thought: ‘OK, let’s go for it. Let’s give it a try. Let’s see what’s possible,’” Hirscher said. “So unexpected was never a win before.”

Sitting next to him, Kristoffersen couldn’t help but chime in.

“I’m not surprised,” Kristoffersen said.

“Come on, Henrik,” Hirscher responded.

It was Hirscher’s 23rd World Cup giant slalom win, which ties him for third most among men with Switzerland’s Michael von Gruenigen. That leaves him trailing only Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Ligety (24) in the discipline.

“Marcel’s a great athlete,” Kristoffersen said. “He’s making sure that everything is lined up as good as possible for himself. That’s one of the reasons he has won six overall globes in a row. Of course, he’s mentally strong.”

These days, he’s getting physically strong, too. He hardly feels any discomfort in that ankle, especially on race day.

“If you’re so pumped, with this high adrenaline, it doesn’t hurt,” said Hirscher, who was 17th in a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12. “It is completely free of pain. I didn’t think about it. Maybe during training sometimes I think about it or feel a little pain. But it is not worth talking about it.”

Hirscher’s not the only top GS racer on the mend. Ligety showed signs of returning to form following surgery to fix herniated disks in January. He was second after the first pass through the course, but he made several small mistakes on his final run to slip to seventh.

“I’m happy with how I’ve been skiing and how my body feels. That’s good,” Ligety said. “But Beaver Creek has been a really good hill for me. I expected a lot more.”

As a whole, the Americans turned in a lackluster performance on their home course. In three races, the top finish was by Ligety. Tommy Ford had a career-best 10th-place World Cup finish Sunday.

“That was much better skiing,” Ford said. “It was cool to do some good arcs.”

Starting third-to-last in the final run, Hirscher powered his way down the course to knock Kristoffersen from the top spot. Ligety couldn’t catch him and neither could Luitz, who picked up his fifth World Cup podium finish.

Luitz was impressed with Hirscher.

“He’s unbelievable. He was injured and trained like two weeks, maybe less, and just amazing how he came back,” Luitz said. “He’s the best skier in the world.”

Hence, the pressure that only figures to escalate as the Olympics near.

“The first day I was able to walk without the cast and no crutches, the pressure began to pop up again,” Hirscher said. “But especially after today, it is completely the same (pressure).

“The last month was really hard. Just skiing, skiing, skiing, as many runs as possible, trying to gain the speed. … I improved myself through every turn.”

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Ted Ligety questions cancellation of World Cup race

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Can’t blame Ted Ligety for eagerly wanting to race the Alpine skiing season opener after overcoming two years’ worth of injuries to return to the World Cup circuit.

Ligety did not agree with canceling the giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, more than three hours before the scheduled start partially, based on a foreboding forecast. He aired frustration in a series of tweets.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) called off the race before 7 a.m. local time, citing 75 mph wind gusts and a forecast for worsening conditions later in the day. The first run was scheduled for 10 a.m. FIS later said that by midday the entire area had to be evacuated due to a storm.

“Seems odd to have a race cancelled at 645am in Austria when their biggest star is temporarily out,” Ligety tweeted at the FIS Alpine account early in the morning and in a separate tweet to his 88,000 followers.

Austria’s biggest star is six-time reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who is sidelined indefinitely due to a broken left ankle suffered Aug. 17.

Before Ligety’s series of injuries, he battled Hirscher for giant slalom titles. The last two seasons, Hirscher has been largely unrivaled in the discipline.

Soelden, the traditional season opener, is never rescheduled, so the cancellation means Hirscher could return before missing any giant slaloms. The next GS is Dec. 3.

The World Cup giant slalom season title — which Ligety has won five times and Hirscher four — goes to the man who accumulates the most points from the nine scheduled World Cup races through March. With the Soelden cancellation, there will be eight.

Ligety just missed a big chance to get a leg up on Hirscher.

“It may be horrible weather up there, but when the president of the OSV [Austrian ski federation] is telling people it will be cancelled days in advance it smells fishy,” Ligety’s Twitter account continued. “I wanted the opportunity to try to race. + they don’t make this race up. Already less GS’s then SL&DH [slaloms and downhills scheduled this season]. A forecast is only a forecast not 100.”

Hirscher laughed at Ligety’s comment and agreed with the decision to cancel the race, according to Austrian media.

“A race wouldn’t have been possible today,” the Austrian federation posted on Facebook about an hour after Ligety’s initial tweet.

Austrian ski officials also reportedly dismissed Ligety’s tweets.

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