He’s considered the favorite for the 2014 Winter Olympic men’s giant slalom gold medal.
Salt Lake city native Ted Ligety did nothing to dispel that notion Sunday at St. Moritz, Switz.
In the final World Cup men’s race before the Sochi Olympics in Russia, four-time World Cup giant slalom king Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah earned his 21st career World Cup victory with a big 1.51-second victory in a field of 29 two-run finishers at St. Moritz.
Two-time Olympian Ligety recorded his third World Cup giant slalom triumph in six races this season over his two chief rivals for the 2014 GS crown—by 1.51 seconds over second-place Marcel Hirscher, 24, of Austria and by 1.69 over third-place Alexis Pinturault, 22, of France.
Hirscher has been more consistent than Ligety in giant slalom this season with five podiums including one victory in the six events, so the Austrian ace leads the GS standings 460-365 over Pinturault, with Ligety standing close by in third place with 360.
Still, Ligety desperately needed a solid result in GS before the Sochi Games and he nailed it at St. Moritz. Blasting through thick fog, Ligety masterfully raced to a 1.28 second first run lead and didn’t hold back in the bumpy final to claim the wire-to-wire win.
The 2006 Olympic gold medalist in combined and three-time world champion in 2011 told the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association News Bureau, “That was a bumpy ride. It’s so tough when you can’t see anything—it just makes it that much more tiring. That was a hack-fest battle, for sure, so I’m glad that I was actually able to make it to the finish line, let alone win.
“Generally the way I ski is a little bit rounder than everybody else. I try to make smoother, cleaner turns and not worry about the distance so much. I think when it’s like this and it’s so hacked up, that plays well for me because I kind of avoid some of those bigger holes. So, yeah, I was just lucky that I was able to make it down though too.
“Nice to get another good race in and confirm where I am in GS on an actual race, not just have training, and then hopefully I can carry that confidence over the next couple weeks.”
Ligety’s first competition at Sochi is likely to be the men’s super combined Friday, Feb. 14.
In the men’s World Cup overall standings, two-time defending World Cup overall king Hirscher surged ahead 955-897 over Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, 31. Staying in third place with 774 points was Pinturault while U.S. technical race leader Ligety is fourth with 629 points. Pinturault and Ligety are tied for the combined discipline lead, 180 each.
U.S. veteran Bode Miller is eighth with 449 points.
Next races for the men are downhill and super giant slalom events Saturday and Sunday, March 1-2 at Kvitfjell, Norway.
First-run leader Shiffrin hits a rut
On Sunday at Kranjska Gora, Slov., reigning world champion Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, of Eagle-Vail, Co. was leading after the first run but struck a deep rut in her second run. The mishap slowed her to seventh place Sunday in the final World Cup slalom before the 2014 Olympics.
Shiffrin was .31 seconds in the lead after her first run of the 50th edition of the prestigious “Golden Fox.”
But a hole at the top of her second run rocked her forward and off balance. Shiffrin was able to recover, but the bump robbed her of all her speed and she dropped to seventh, the USSA News Bureau reported.
Frida Hansdotter, 28, of Sweden, who has eight previous World Cup podiums to her name—all second-place finishes—claimed the first win of her career. Shiffrin ended up 0.72 seconds behind Hansdotter as 26 of the women finished both runs.
Shiffrin said, “You know what? It was tough. But Frida went right before me and she did it, so it’s definitely hard and you have to be athletic. You really have to go for it and not let any little gate trip you up, just let your skis go down the hill. I didn’t quite do it on every gate that run so it cost me the lead.”
Placing 23rd in slalom on Sunday, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, remained ahead in the tightly-contested overall women’s race with 1,079 points compared to 943 for second-place Tina Weirather, 24, of Liechtenstein.
Austria’s Anna Fenninger, 24, is third with 871 and Switzerland’s Lara Gut, 22, is fourth with 796. Shiffrin collected 36 points and now stands sixth with 650 points.
The athletes now head to Sochi, Russia for the Opening Ceremony Friday, Feb. 7 followed by the women’s super combined event Feb. 10.
Women’s World Cup racing resumes March 1-2 with downhill and super combined at Crans-Montana, Switz. The World Cup Finals are March 12-16 at Lenzerheide, Switz.