SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — Tim Jitloff, who grew up skiing as a young boy on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, treated the home crowd to a local victory in the U.S. Alpine Championships giant slalom race after holding off Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety on the challenging Red Dog trail to claim his second consecutive national title.
A travel-weary Mr. GS trailed Jitloff by over a second after the first run and then got caught on his inside while attempting to make up ground in the second run, sliding off course to the shock and disappointment of spectators.
“I kind of knew that was going to be tough and so I said, ‘I’m just going to take it pretty easy in there.’ I heard that Ted had gone out, so I knew that I could take it a little easier and not charge as hard as I needed to,” reasoned Jitloff. “It was sketchy in there for a second, but I kept it solid and kept it safe. And when I got down to the bottom here, I did charge down here to kind of hold off and make sure I got in there.”
Jitloff won Wednesday’s tune-up race on the same hill by over two seconds, but he knew Ligety was on his way to contest the title event. Still, the gold medalist and small globe winner’s presence didn’t add any pressure for the World Cup regular.
“At this point, I’m 16th in the world so this stuff is not new to me and we’ve raced against each other head-to-head for a long time. I don’t have any nerves about it,” remarked Jitloff. “For sure, second run though, you know, I’ve got family and friends here and I came up from this area, and I definitely wanted it. So I had to get down fast, and I’m psyched that I did it in front of everybody. It’s great. It’s a good feeling.”
Ligety has had another banner season on the World Cup circuit and at the Sochi Olympic Games, but it was hard for him to carry the momentum back to California.
“End of the season, my motivation is just totally sapped. I’m beat up physically and pretty over it mentally. When it’s this intense of a hill, it’s definitely a big challenge,” said Ligety. “The only times I’ve ever really had bad injuries have happened at nationals because my head’s not fully in it and ski racing is a super dangerous sport if you’re not willing to fully have your head in the right place and be right physically. It’s just so hard to do. I was running on fumes even the World Cup the last little bit, so it’s always hard to come and try to compete at a super high level at the very end of the season.”
Snowbird’s Brennan Rubie, a member of the B Team who recently locked up a World Cup starting spot for next season after finishing second in the NorAm GS standings, moved from sixth after the first run to finish as runner-up on the day even after suffering a thumb injury from hitting his hand on the snow. While he feared it may have been more serious in the immediate aftermath, it turned out to be a jammed thumb, and he was able to start the second run and claim his first national championships GS podium in the process.
“I just tried to hold on for dear life because I knew I had some time to make up on Jit and Ted and everybody who destroyed me first run,” said Rubie, who held the lead after Ligety skied out and before Jitloff’s second run. “It was a shame. Obviously Ted’s the best skier in the world and we all want to beat him. I think I still have some work to do as far as gaining time on him in the future, but it was a lucky break for me.”
Jared Goldberg, who wowed American fans with his 11th-place finish in the super combined at the Sochi Olympics, further solidified his reputation as a rising all-around skier by finishing on the podium in third.
“My GS has been really good all year. I haven’t raced it — this is only my fourth race of the year, and I probably only trained about four or five times. I’ve been training everything else, and my skiing’s been good. I’ve been skiing technically well in the speed events, so this was just another day of fun skiing through gates,” remarked Goldberg. He has discovered this season that the secret to successful all-around ski racing might just require an athlete to embrace the idea that less is more.
“What I did this year was actually do less (tech) and focus on what I really enjoy more which is the speed events, and now that I come back and do this every once in a while I’m really enjoying tech now and I’ve refound my love for it,” he noted. “I think if you’re good at one event you should be able to be good at all the events. You’re skiing the same way. Slalom’s a little bit different … it’s super quick, so as long as you have a technical background you can be really good at it as long as you send it every time and not let it get you down.”
The top juniors included Snowbird’s Bryce Astle in 13th, Global Racing’s Charlie Raposo (U18) of Great Britain in 15th, and the U.S. Ski Team’s Tanner Farrow in 16th. Astle used knowledge from a less successful race in Wednesday’s tune-up to make major gains in the championship event.
“It was so slushy this afternoon and two days ago, so I just adjusted and fixed my line and turned out winning juniors, so it went awesome,” said Astle.
The University of Utah’s Mark Engel, the 2014 NCAA GS champion, was in position to threaten for the podium before a serious error on the second run forced him to complete a 360-degree turn mid-course in order to stay on track. He ultimately finished 11th. Another notable contender for the podium, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, decided against starting in the race, citing a minor knee issue.
“They do a really good job of pulling off a race here,” acknowledged Ligety. “It’s a really impressive crowd for U.S. Nationals, and it’s cool to have all these kids out here cheering us on. That’s definitely the highlight of it.”
By Hank McKee
It is the fifth national title for Tim Jitloff. He previously won U.S. Nationals in GS (exactly a year ago) and in 2009 at Alyeska. He also won combined in 2009 and the GS title in 2008 at Sugarloaf.
It is the second U.S. Nationals podium for Brennan Rubie who was third in SG at Winter Park 2012.
It is the fourth Nationals podium for Jared Goldberg. He was the 2012 U.S. Downhill Champion. He was second in SG at Squaw in 2013, and third in SG in Winter Park 2012.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|33||62||6530925||VAN DEURSEN Jake||1994||USA||1:14.70||1:16.43||2:31.13||+8.68||62.23|
|Disqualified 1st run|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|84||6531523||O BRIEN Keilan||1996||USA|