ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — With nearly a second cushion between him and the next best racer after the first run, it was Ted Ligety’s race to lose at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
At least that’s what Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher told reporters between runs.
Ligety may have cut it a little closer than many of his supporters in the Rosa Khutor finish stadium would have liked. In his second giant slalom run, the American gave up a full second on France’s Steve Missillier, who jumped from 10th place into silver medal position. The split times for Ligety were gradually moving in the wrong direction. One error in particular on the pitch prompted a collective gasp from the bleachers, but smooth skiing through to the finish proved enough to secure the win by a half-second and an Olympic gold medal — the second of his career. Ligety became the first American male to win an Olympic GS, and he tied Andrea Mead Lawrence’s alpine record of two career gold medals, both won during the 1952 Oslo Games, in the process.
With two solid runs, another Frenchman Alexis Pinturault claimed the bronze medal, as Hirscher finished just off the podium in fourth.
After the first run, Ligety held a 0.93-second lead over surprise contender Ondrej Bank, of the Czech Republic, who skied from the 28th start position to land the second best GS run of the morning.
“The plan was really just to nail a couple of the big rolls,” said Ligety. “Bear’s Brow, I was surprised how they set it (first run), just because there’s potential for making big mistakes off that if you took all your speed into it. I didn’t catch any air, but I also ditched a lot of speed there. I think that’s a safer strategy. … This hill is not so difficult skiing-wise, but it’s difficult tactically.”
Ligety, who won three gold medals at the World Championships in Schladming a year ago, had been shut out in these Games up until Wednesday’s GS, which he was the favorite to win.
“The combined was definitely a huge disappointment,” Ligety said reflecting on his time in Russia. “The super G was great. I just made one big mistake. … That was frustrating but at least I knew I was skiing fast.
“Today was awesome. There’s not really any other way to put it. This is something I’ve been working for since I was a little kid. Being the favorite in alpine skiing is never easy … because it’s not an event that’s super simple to win even if you’re the best in the world.”
“He is just brilliant,” said Hirscher, who currently leads both the overall and GS World Cup standings. “The best guy won today. Before the race started it would have been a big surprise if someone beat him. … I am the first loser and it’s bad. For sure, I am disappointed, on the other hand I am not far away (from the medals) right now.” Still, fourth was a hard result for Hirscher to stomach, and he made no effort to conceal his disappointment following the race.
“I am really pissed off. It was the biggest chance for a medal in my whole career,” said Hirscher. The 2013 slalom world champion has even lost some of his confidence heading into Saturday’s race after his GS performance. “I have no big hopes, if I do not get well on this course, I do not think it is going to go well.”
When it comes to Bode Miller, one never knows what can happen at one of these races. It wasn’t more than three months ago that Miller surprised the ski racing world joining Ligety on the GS podium in Beaver Creek. However, Wednesday was not his day. Sitting two-and-a-half seconds back after a sloppy first run, Miller skied to 20th.
The five-time Olympic veteran announced after the race he plans to forgo the slalom on Saturday, marking an end to his Olympic career.
“It’s tough to have my last (Olympic) race look like this, but I’m good,” said Miller, who’s had an emotional couple days. “Obviously, I feel like I was capable of more, but my effort and my intensity were as good as I could possibly put out there. … There’s a lot of stuff going on, but afterwards you move on and you focus. It’s the same with a bad result or a good result. Skiing the next day comes whether you’re ready for it or not.”
Miller said he plans to finish out the World Cup season; he did not say what’s in store after that, but he did offer is own two cents on the much-analyzed Ted Ligety style.
“In general, (Ligety) just carries speed from turn to turn better,” said Miller. “Because he’s going deeper, his turn is actually longer … Ted goes so round that his turn is naturally a longer radius. So by the time his turn finishes, it’s time to go into the next turn. … That way, he generates from one turn right into the next one and tips it up. The two things work together. He generates more speed … and because he has so much space, he never pinches or gets in trouble because he’s always way far away from the gate.
“Take nothing away from Ted. I think he’s one of the best GS skiers in history,” added Miller, “but if he had some competitors that skied alternative styles to his — everyone right now is trying to do what he’s doing … If you saw a guy like (Alberto) Tomba at his best or Hermann (Maier) at his best or even (Michael) Von Gruenigen, those guys had there own thing going and they knew exactly how to do it. It would be tough for Ted to compete against somebody who was cutting that much line off him.”
Tim Jitloff and Jared Goldberg also represented the U.S., finishing 15th and 19th, respectively. Jitloff picked up some time early in his second run, but couldn’t hang on coming down the pitch. Meanwhile, Goldberg, competing in his first Olympic Games and skiing from bib 40, threw down the sixth fastest second-run time.
“I’m happier with the second run than I was with the first,” said Jitloff. “In the first run I was really intense on top and really tried to send it, but it was too aggressive and I made some errors that slowed me down. On this run I tried to balance that out. So the second run was a little more balanced in terms of intensity and push.”
See more photos from the race here.
POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
By Hank McKee
Men’s Olympic giant slalom, Sochi, Russia, Feb 19, 2014. … It is the eighth of ten alpine events at the 22nd Winter Olympics. … The fourth of five for men. … It is the 34th Olympic GS… the 17th for men. … Austrians have won three of the last four Olympic men’s GS races. … No American male had previously won an Olympic GS gold medal. … Tom Corcoran placed fourth in 1960 and Bode Miller second in 2002. Perfect conditions, 31.3 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, 23.5 at the finish.
It is the second Olympic gold medal for Ted Ligety, the previous in combined in 2006. … He and Andrea Mead Lawrence (GS and SL 1952) are the only American alpine skiers with two gold medals. … It is his fifth win of the season and fourth in GS. … He is the first U.S. male to win an Olympic gold medal in GS. … It is the 15th U.S. alpine Olympic gold medal and the first gold in four medals in 2014.
It is the first Olympic medal for Steve Missillier. … He combines with Alexis Pinturault to put two Frenchman on a single podium. … The French did this in slalom in 2002. … It is Missillier’s best result of the season, bettering a fourth in GS from Soelden Oct. 27.
It is the first Olympic result for Alexis Pinturault. … It is his seventh podium result of the season… his fourth in GS.
It is the first Olympic result for Tim Jitloff. … It is his third best finish of the season, second best in GS behind a fifth at Alta Badia Dec. 22. … It is the second top-20 Olympic finish for Jared Goldberg and his first GS result of the season. … It is the worst of four finishes at the 2014 Olympics for Bode Miller. …It is the first Olympic result for Trevor Philipp and Philip Brown and the third, all in 2014, for Morgan Pridy.
Alpine medal count: Austria 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze; Canada 1 bronze; Croatia 1 silver; France 1 silver, 1 bronze; Germany 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze; Italy 1 silver, 1 bronze; Norway 1 gold, 1 bronze; Slovenia 2 gold; Switzerland 2 gold, 1 bronze; USA 1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|11||24||990116||DE ALIPRANDINI Luca||1990||ITA||1:23.08||1:23.83||2:46.91||+1.62||8.72|
|16||15||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||1:23.58||1:23.57||2:47.15||+1.86||10.02|
|36||74||491151||DE LA CUESTA Paul||1988||SPA||1:27.13||1:26.13||2:53.26||+7.97||42.91|
|40||44||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG||1:26.02||1:27.89||2:53.91||+8.62||46.41|
|45||62||390035||SMITH Warren Cummings||1992||EST||1:28.25||1:29.17||2:57.42||+12.13||65.31|
|55||80||260079||SAVEH SHEMSHAKI Hossein||1985||IRA||1:32.35||1:32.87||3:05.22||+19.93||107.31|
|56||86||250348||KRISTGEIRSSON Einar Kristinn||1994||ISL||1:32.90||1:32.55||3:05.45||+20.16||108.55|
|59||96||250259||GUDMUNDSSON Brynjar Jokull||1989||ISL||1:33.58||1:36.03||3:09.61||+24.32||130.95|
|70||108||950000||OETTL REYES Manfred||1993||PER||1:47.05||1:33.91||3:20.96||+35.67||192.06|
|Disqualified 2nd run|
|Disqualified 1st run|
|105||450026||MICHELOTTI Vincenzo Romano||1996||RSM|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|109||920004||PARDO ANDRETTA Antonio Jose||1970||VEN|
|66||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI|
|65||30246||BIRKNER KETELHOHN Jorge F.||1990||ARG|
|58||491876||PUENTE TASIAS Alex||1994||SPA|
|56||20398||VERDU SANCHEZ Joan||1995||AND|