Four years, one month, and 14 days. That’s how long it had been since an American man stood atop a World Cup podium in giant slalom. It had been over 14 years since someone not named Ted Ligety won in GS. That someone? The one and only Bode Miller. All of those clocks were reset on Sunday when Oregon’s Tommy Ford climbed the top step of the podium in Beaver Creek for not only his first World Cup win, but also the first podium of his career.
It can be tough sometimes to put a single result into perspective. For Ford in particular, the brief snapshot of a single day in Colorado hardly tells the full story of the perseverance and willpower shown throughout his career on the national team in order to finally emerge victorious on the World Cup.
The talented Ford first caught national attention when he nearly swept the 2006 Junior Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho, capturing four gold medals and one silver in a performance that has yet to be repeated at the junior level in the United States. The native of Bend then turned that effort into a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s development squad and steadily progressed through the international ranks over the next few seasons, even making his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010 in the GS as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
All of that early momentum came to a screeching halt on January 15, 2013. Ford crashed while freeskiing in La Clusaz, France, between World Cup stops and suffered a gruesome fracture of his right femur. Simply put, there is nothing straightforward about breaking the biggest bone in you body. A steel rod was inserted into his leg and he spent nine days in the hospital in France before he was finally well enough to travel back to the United States.
After nearly two years of intense rehab, Ford slowly returned to racing and stepped back into a World Cup starting gate in March of 2015 and hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s been a progression,” Ford shared after Sunday’s race. “I had an injury years ago and have been listening to my body and really taking the time to come back.”
Now 30, Ford’s steady improvement through the World Cup GS ranks since his return to competition has been calculated and methodical, culminating in Sunday’s decisive victory in Beaver Creek in front of thousands of fans on home snow. If there is such a thing as a storybook ending to a years-long tale of adversity and overcoming long odds, Sunday in Beaver Creek is just about as close as you will get.
Sunday’s race began with with an air of uncertainty as overnight snowfall continued into the morning and brought spots of dense fog with it onto the Birds of Prey course. Ford ran with bib five and took full advantage of his early start and skied a clean and powerful line from start to finish to set the time to beat ahead of Norwegian duo Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen and Henrik Kristoffersen. American great Ligety also sat in fourth, tantalizingly close to yet another World Cup podium.
Ford already showed some serious speed after a previous career-best fourth place in Soelden to kick off the season, but he had never led after the first run of a World Cup.
“There’s all sorts of thoughts going through your mind,” he said of how he dealt with the new situation. “Some nerves come up but you just have to work with them and clear them, work with them and clear them, it’s just a continual process all the way through to the start. Once things get going, it just happens.”
A second run that was described as “fast and unpredictable” provided a big shake-up in the standings as several favorites fell back and fresh faces made big jumps in the rankings thanks to changing light and a formidable course set. Ligety was one such favorite to fall victim to the second run as “Mr. GS” also slid back in the standings after his run, ultimately settling for 11th place.
Kristoffersen looked to have run away with the race after an attacking second run saw him cross the finish with nearly a full-second advantage with only Nestvold-Haugen and Ford left at the start. Nestvold-Haugen also fought his way to a guaranteed podium finish after a strong second run of his own, sliding in just behind his teammate.
Ford stood stoic in the start before pushing out into the falling snow as the finish crowd erupted in cheers, eager to help him in any way they could. After losing time at the first interval, Ford switched gears and made quick work of the rest of the course, building his advantage at each time check as the volume steadily increased at the finish.
As he approached the line, it was clear that Ford had just done something special. Crossing the finish to a green light that showed a winning margin of 0.80 seconds over the reigning World Champion in GS put an exclamation point on a stunning day of racing in the Colorado Rockies.
“I’ve been skiing as hard as I can and skiing well and been on this path for a long time,” he said. “I feel very, very grateful for my upbringing at Mt. Bachelor with my friends and family and it’s just kind of led to this moment. There’s more moments to come, I don’t know what they are but I’m very grateful.”
Emotions overflowed in the finish as fans cheered, teammates hugged, and staff celebrated a most-deserving winner in Ford. It’s not often you see grown men in tears at the finish of a World Cup, but on Sunday in Beaver Creek, there were quite a few.
With Sunday’s result, Ford also now leads the World Cup GS standings and will wear the red leader’s bib at this weekend’s race in Val d’Isere, France.
For Kristoffersen, the young talent managed to rebound from a lackluster performance in Soelden to kick off the GS season and take control of his lofty GS goals this year with his second place in Beaver Creek.
“I lost a lot of time on the flats before Golden Eagle, that’s just how it is because I’m not the best one at the flats,” he explained after the race. “Still, to come out of here with a second place, and to just ski good, I’m pretty happy with that. The season really starts now. I was not worried after Soelden. It can happen that one or two races during the season go bad because you can have a bad day, but most of them should be like this.”
Nestvold-Haugen also has ties to Colorado as the 32-year-old spent four years at the University of Denver, racing on the NCAA circuit before breaking through on the World Cup. Sunday’s result was also his first podium appearance since finishing runner-up in the 2017 Kranjska Gora GS.
“I’ve been on this snow quite a few years,” he said. “I had four years over here, so I’ve always really liked the snow, you get a lot back from it. It feels like being home, I have a lot of friends here and have had quite a few days up in this area trying to make it to this level. It definitely puts things in perspective when you go to college and after you have kids and stuff like that so I’m old but still feel really young.”
Following Ford for the Americans was Ligety in 11th and Saturday’s downhill hero, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, in 23rd. Samuel Dupratt did not finish his first run and Brian McLaughlin, River Radamus, and George Steffey did not qualify for the second run. Sunday was also Steffey’s first career World Cup start.
Canada’s Trevor Philp also made waves with a career-best GS result in seventh place. Philp relied on a strong first run from bib 25 and a go-for-broke approach in the second run to secure another top 10 in the discipline and further climb up the rankings as the Tour heads now to Europe.
“Honestly, I was quite nervous, but I had a plan and I really tried to stick with it and bring my intensity super high and if something happened, it happened,” Philp said of his performance. “I stuck with it and I’m happy with the outcome. I love racing here in Beaver Creek, I’ve got friends and family here and it’s just a fun track to charge down. Happy that North America did well today too!”
Also of note was 19-year-old Norwegian Lukas Braathen, who was one of two athletes born in the 2000s on the start list and finished in 15th place. Braathen also finished sixth in Soelden and showed the he will be a name to watch the rest of the year in GS.
The men’s World Cup now heads over to Europe with slalom and GS races in Val d’Isere, France, December 14-15.
- Tommy Ford (USA) – 2:31.25 Head/Head/Head
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – +0.80 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (NOR) – +1.23 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Zan Kranjec (SLO) – +1.75 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) – +1.78 Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Mathieu Faivre (FR) – +2.06 Head/Head/Head
- Trevor Philp (CAN) – +2.09 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Filip Zubcic (CRO) – +2.10 Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Gino Caviezel (SUI) – +2.31 Dynastar/Lange/Look
- Justin Murisier (SUI) – +2.39 Nordica/Nordica/Marker
For complete results, please click here.