Sochi Olympics 2014

Ted Ligety blasts field, fog for 21st World Cup win in St. Moritz giant slalom

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American Ted Ligety used the final race before the Olympics to make a statement, dominating the field en route to his third World Cup giant slalom victory of the season on Sunday in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Ligety, the reigning World Cup and world champion in the discipline, left little drama as to the outcome of the race with a perfect first run and went on to navigate the thick fog in Run 2 for a 1.51-second victory over Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Alexis Pinturault of France.

The victory was the 21st in Ligety’s career and 20th in the giant slalom, which ranks third all-time in World Cup history. Only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Switzerland’s Michael von Grueningen (23) have won more.

“It was nice to get in another good race and confirm where I’m at in GS and not just having training,” Ligety said. “Hopefully I’ll carry that confidence over into the next couple of weeks.”

Bode Miller, Ligety’s U.S. Olympic teammate, hit a rut and crashed out of the race midway through the first run. Tim Jitloff was the only other American to make the flip, and finished 17th.

“There were already big holes in some places when I went down and you can’t see where they are and the coaches can’t tell you where they are,” Miller told the Associated Press. “The guys making it down were skiing very conservatively, trying not to crash and not to make mistakes. Ted is the only one really who skied normally.”

Ligety couldn’t have picked a better time for a statement performance.

Earlier this season, it appeared Ligety would once again dominate the giant slalom as he has the last two seasons. He won the first two races in Soelden and Beaver Creek, extending his World Cup GS winning streak to four.

But in December, he skied out of the giant slalom in Val d’Isere, a course he was quite critical of afterward, and before scoring a third-place finish in Alta Badia. Earlier this month in Adelboden, he caught a bump during the second run which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing him off the course.

Those struggles dropped Ligety to third place in the World Cup giant slalom standings, 120 points behind Hirscher and 25 behind Pinturault with only three races left on the season. They also called into question Ligety’s status as the Olympic gold medal favorite in the event.

It took just one run for Ligety to remind everyone that he is, indeed, still the man.

Despite a light falling snow, more of the fog that forced the cancellation of Saturday’s downhill, and low light, Ligety carved perfect turns throughout his first trip down the piste, insuring that it got late early out there, to paraphrase the great Yogi Berra.

“Generally, the way I ski is a little bit rounder than everybody else, trying to make smoother, cleaner turns and not worry about the distance so much,” Ligety said of his attack plan. “I think when it is like this and so hacked up that plays well for me because I kind of avoid some of those bigger holes.”

The competition could only shake their heads and offer a tip of the cap to Ligety after he left Pinturault 1.28 seconds behind and Hirscher 1.43 seconds back. Fritz Dopfer of Germany was 1.87 back in fourth while Matts Olsson of Sweden and Philipp Schoerghofer of Austria shared fifth place, 1.91 behind. Everybody else was more than two seconds behind going into the second run.

After the first run, Hirscher conceded that the race “was all but over,” to AP.

But the deteriorating conditions effectively kept every skier in contention, despite the huge time gap. Softening snow left tricky ruts everywhere and the fog went from sporadically thick to shrouding the course like a scene out of a horror movie.

In the second run, Ligety increased his lead over Hirscher to 1.91 seconds at the first interval, but gradually lost some of that advantage down the slope. Nevertheless, his margin was still huge.

“That was a bumpy ride,” Ligety said afterward. “It’s so tough when you can’t see anything. It makes it that much more tiring that was a hack-fast battle for sure. I’m happy I was able to make it to the finish line let alone win.”

With his victory, Ligety picked up 20 points on Hirscher in the giant slalom standings but remains in third place. Hirscher leads with 460 points, followed by Pinturault with 365 and Ligety with 360. Hirscher regained the lead in the World Cup overall standings as Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal skied out in the second run. Hirscher now leads Svindal, 975-897.

The men’s giant slalom in Sochi is scheduled for February 19. Following the Games, there will be giant slalom World Cup races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.

St. Moritz Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Ted Ligety (USA) 2:38.75

2. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:40.26

3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:40.44

4. Matts Olsson (SWE) 2:41.43

5. Philipp Schoerghofer (AUT) 2:41.55

6. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:41.99

7. Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) 2:42.03

8. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 2:42.11

9. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:42.58

10. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:42.71

17. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:43.84

DNF. Bode Miller (USA)

Mikaela Shiffrin tumbles to 7th in final World Cup slalom before Olympics

Felix Neureuther historic in Adelboden giant slalom win as Ted Ligety, Bode Miller DNF

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There is a new force to be reckoned with in the men’s giant slalom

And it is coming from an unlikely source.

With a spectacular second run, German slalom specialist Felix Neureuther made a bit of history while overtaking the technically-proficient French as well as World Cup frontrunners Ted Ligety of the U.S. and Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win the giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland on Saturday.

Neureuther became the first German skier ever to win a race on this course and, with the start of the Olympics just over three weeks away, the first German skier to win a World Cup giant slalom race since Max Rieger on March 2, 1973.

Rieger competed in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Games for West Germany.

“This is a historic moment I am part of and it’s just an awesome feeling,” Neureuther, who won the slalom in Bormio on Monday, said after the race. “I tried to ski smart in the right places and push hard where I needed to. I never thought I would win in giant slalom because I was always better in slalom. But I have been thinking about it since last year, and to come on top with so many great GS skiers like Ted, Marcel, Alexis, is amazing.”

Neureuther hails from a strong pedigree. His father, Christian, was a three-time Olympian between 1972 and 1980 for West Germany. His mother, Rosi Mittermaier, competed in three Olympics for West Germany, winning gold in downhill and slalom and silver in the giant slalom at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. Neureuther’s aunts, Evi  (1976 and 1980) and Heidi (1964) Mittermaier, were also Winter Olympic Alpine skiers.

In winning his seventh World Cup race, Neureuther not only eclipsed his father’s career victory total, he also served notice that he should not be discounted as a medal contender in a second event come Sochi.

The giant slalom has been dominated in recent years by Hirscher and Ligety, who combined to win the four previous races this season but each failed to finish in the top two for the first time in two years.

Neureuther set down a pristine second run, absolutely crushing the bottom half of the course to take a 1.25 second lead with six skiers to follow.

Hirscher was one of those followers, and after a fast, flowing, aggressive start to his second run, he lost most of his advantage in the middle sections and finished third, .19 seconds behind Neureuther. Hirscher retained his lead in the World Cup giant slalom standings with 380 points

After Hirscher came Ligety, the 2013 winner in Adelboden and the reigning world champion. The American looked good out of the gate, but as he approached the midway point of his run, he caught a bump which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing Ligety off the course.

“The snow is just really weird. It kind of pops you out in places and then is really pealy and hard to get anything established in other places,” Ligety, who fell 120 points behind Hirscher in the World Cup giant slalom standings, told AP.

The French followed but their 1-2 placers from the first run didn’t pack the same punch. Alexis Pinturault lost time when he got caught on his inside ski during the rolling turns of the middle section of the course, and finished fourth. And where leader Thomas Fanara was clean in the first run, he made mistakes in the second, and with every turn saw his first run advantage whittled away until he had slipped into second, .10 seconds behind Neureuther.

For Fanara and the other favorites, Adelboden proved to be a tale of two runs.

Having a low bib number proved to be advantageous in the first run as Fanara, wearing bib No. 1, capitalized on the best snow conditions and posted a time which would hold as fastest. Ligety, starting third, finished .89 seconds behind. Hirscher, starting fourth, was one-hundredth behind Ligety. Pinturault, who wore Bib 6, posted the second-fastest time behind his teammate. Neureuther started fifth and finished the first run in seventh place.

“Sure, it was an advantage to go before,” Fanara told AP. “After that, I think I had a complete run.”

Sunny and warm conditions contributed to the deterioration of the course. American Bode Miller, who won this race in 2002, lost his balance in the soft snow midway through his run and skied out.

Further adding to the craziness of the first run was a near collision between Norway’s Henrik Kristofferson and a course worker who strayed onto the piste during his run. Kristoffersen appealed and was given a second start, but by then the course conditions were so carved that he placed 21st in excess of three seconds off Fanara’s early pace. He wound up placing 13th.

Aside from Ligety, two other Americans made the second run. Tim Jitloff wound up finishing 24th on his 29th birthday, while Robby Kelley came in 28th.

Racing will continue in Adelboden on Sunday with a men’s slalom.

Adelboden Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Felix Neureuther (GER) 2:34.60

2. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:34.70

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:34.79

4. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:34.92

5. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:35.84

6. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 2:35.96

7. Davide Simoncelli (ITA) 2:36.00

8. Mathieu Faivre (FRA) 2:36.02

9. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:36.32

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 2:36.38

24. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:37.00

28. Robby Kelley (USA) 2:39.35

DNF Ted Ligety (USA)

DNF Bode Miller (USA)

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Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

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The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

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