Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ted Ligety captures world championship gold

Ted Ligety tucks to giant slalom World Championship gold. Courtesy photo by Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

By the U.S. Ski Team, Ski Racing Magazine News Service and Idaho Mountain Express

Park City's Ted Ligety, 26, is now officially the best men's giant slalom skier in the world.

Ligety won the 2011 FIS (International Ski Federation) Alpine World Championship men's giant slalom Friday at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He won the bronze medal in GS two years ago at worlds in Val d'Isere, France.

It was business as usual Friday for "Shred" Ligety, who went about his job.

He fed off the energy of the World Championships, listened to a detailed course report from Bode Miller, the fastest skier of the second run. Then Ligety executed, laying into his turns as only he can.

And he continued to execute, turn after turn, posting a narrow .08-of-a-second gold medal margin over Frenchman Cyprien Richard. Austria's Philipp Schoerghofer salvaged his nation's pride with a strong bronze medal performance.

The day belonged to Ligety, who adds the gold medal to a collection of crystal globes from his two World Cup men's giant slalom championships.

And it took near-perfect execution to pull it off. Fourth after the first run, Ligety said he wasn't too concerned about a quarter-of-a-second disadvantage. Although his three World Cup GS wins in December had  resulted from first-run wins, he said he felt, "It didn't really matter what position you're in as long as you're in touch."

"Between runs we just talked fight, fight, fight," said coach Sasha Rearick. "We've been here before, we know what we have to do. When we saw the course today we knew those were the type of turns where Ted can dominate. This course set suited dynamic skiers. He is the best in the world when he can go clean and deep. The main thing was for him to trust himself and go as hard as he can."

Ligety said, "It's always nice because the coaches don't really know what's going on with the course until somebody runs it. Having Bode relay up (course information) is good because he obviously has a good feeling for the snow. He got on the radio and told me that I had to push super hard, where I had to be tactical and where it was still clean enough to hammer."

It is the fourth U.S. gold medal in GS, the first coming in 1982 from Steve Mahre in a record setting U.S. showing at Schladming, Austria. The second was a surprise from Diann Roffe in 1985 at Bormio, Italy and Bode Miller won his at St. Moritz, Switz. in 2003.

But this one, this gutsy, no nonsense effort from Ligety turned a disappointing 2011 World Championship in Germany into a successful, joyful celebration for the USA.

Austria places 1-2 in women's slalom

Women's competition at the World Championships concluded Saturday as Austrian Marlies Schild grabbed the last snowflake-shaped gold medal in the slalom. She will be knows as madam world champion for the next two years.

Schild's win capped an amazing performance by the Austrian women at these World Championships as the women in red took four of five gold medals up for grabs (Elizabeth Goergl super G, downhill; Anna Fenninger super combined). Only Tina Maze (4th slalom) of Slovenia was able to ruin the sweep with the giant slalom crown.

"It's an amazing feeling I skied for so many years on the World Cup and made some really good medals, but not the gold medal and everyone expected I could do it today and I hoped that I could," said Schild, who turns 30 this year. "Today is my biggest dream came true and that's a little bit crazy for me at the moment."

Schild was right at home at the top of the podium. With five World Cup victories this season, she currently leads the World Cup slalom standings with a 40-point lead over her nearest rival. She has won every slalom she has finished since December of 2009, a string that includes eight wins.

Though this season has been a dream for Schild, she has paid her dues and been patient in waiting for the gold.

She broke her leg at the beginning of the 2009 season but bounced back the following year with three World Cup wins. A three-time Olympic medalist (two silver and one bronze) and four-time Worlds podium finisher (two bronze and two silver), she had yet to taste gold before today.

"Today was difficult I was nervous, today was the day," said Schild whose boyfriend and Austrian teammate Benjamin Raich badly injured his knee in Wednesday's team event. "The first run was good, solid, I didn't make any big mistakes and that was important, it gave me the right feeling, the right attitude."

It was a colorful day on the slalom track as 111 starters from 46 nations came from all over the globe. That math translated into 36 first run DNFs but a lot of smiles from the proud representatives of countries like Armenia, Peru and Greece.

Defending title holder, German Maria Riesch was on pace for a third medal (two bronze in downhill and super G) at her hometown championships until a mid-course bobble cost her precious speed and pushed her off the podium in fourth place, 1.34 seconds off the pace.

The U.S. got an early out day. Birthday girl Sarah Schleper, 32, led the way into the second run in 13th, 2.24 seconds out but hooked a gate in the middle of the course, throwing her backward off the course and through a Milka sign as course workers scrambled out of the way.

Resi Stiegler had the top American result in 19th, 3.68 seconds back. Megan McJames got some work done in the second run, going from 36th to 29th.

France celebrates men's slalom victory

It was no accident the two guys wearing bibs #1 and #2 wound up on the podium.

Weeks of temperatures at or above freezing combined with the efforts of the work crew had created a solid, grippy surface. But the ravages applied by the strength of the World Cup men was no easy thing to withstand.

Second starting Jean-Baptiste Grange of France claimed the slalom World Championship—his second world medal having won bronze in 2007. It was the first French win in a world championship slalom since Perrine Pelen in 1985, and the first for a Frenchman since Jean-Noel Augert in 1970.

First-starting Manfred Moelgg of Italy, the silver medalist ahead of Grange in 2007, got bronze this time.  It was the sixth medal of the championships for Italy, matching the national record haul from 1997 when the title meet was on their own snow.

Winning silver for Sweden was Jens Byggmark in his first World Championship meet placing ever. It was the first world slalom medal for a Swedish male since Jonas Nilsson won gold in 1985.

Moelgg, with a win and a second place finish on the Gudiberg hill in World Cup action said he was lucky to have drawn bib one, and happy to be racing on a hill he has had some success on.

American Nolan Kasper led the way for his squad, powering through the ruts of the first course from the 29th start and skiing 14th in the second run. Ted Ligety finished 19th.

"The slalom group has put a lot of effort it," said U.S. coach Sasha Rearick. "They moved to Park City, worked their asses off and as a group are coming up. Kasper has been skiing amazing. What he showed today was not his best skiing. He showed his best skiing on the last third of the course both runs, but not at the top. Coming down in 15th will help him a lot for his start position on the World Cup so it's a good thing."

The American men's group resumes World Cup racing at Bansko, Bulgaria (super combined, super giant slalom, slalom) on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 26-27, while the U.S. women invade Are, Sweden for slalom, giant slalom and super combined Feb. 25-27.

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