Ligety rules giant slalom
Beaver Creek, Colo. •Â The day after describing his giant slalom as an "iron skillet" that could withstand anything, Ted Ligety showed everybody just exactly what he meant.
The triple world champion from Park City carved through two flawless runs of his signature event on the final day of the only World Cup ski-racing stop in the United States on Sunday, winning his fourth straight giant slalom despite changing weather conditions and an unexpected challenge from fellow American Bode Miller, who wound up a surprising second.
"Anytime you get a win is awesome, especially in the U.S.," Ligety said. "Having a lot of friends and family here is a lot of fun, so it was great to be able to perform in front of them. And then to share the podium with Bode is awesome. I'm a little bit surprised, actually."
Him and everybody.
While Ligety became the first man since Italy's Alberto Tomba in 1991 to win four straight World Cup giant slaloms Â little surprise there, the way he's been going Miller reached the podium for the first time since returning to racing this season following knee surgery and more than a year away from the sport.
A five-time Olympic medalist, Miller hadn't finished better than 13th in his previous five races of the season, and hadn't reached the podium in giant slalom in eight years. His wife and daughter cheered wildly, along with the rest of the crowd, as he crossed the finish line.
"Even though I took maybe a little bit too much risk and made some mistakes, I really wanted to ski 100 percent," Miller said. "That's why I did the work I did in the summer, and I'm ready to ski as hard as I can now. To be able to beat somebody like Ted, that's what you have to do, you have to be able to go absolutely 100 percent top to bottom with no mistakes and no fatigue."
Ligety set himself up for victory by roaring through a light snow on his first run to clock the fastest time by more than a second.
Then, racing under better conditions after Miller laid down the fastest time of the second run, the 29-year-old again confidently negotiated the course as the last skier to win by a whopping 1.32 seconds in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 35.77 seconds.
His rival for the overall World Cup title, Marcel Hirscher of Austria, finished third.
"You never can get too comfortable with a lead, no matter what," Ligety said. "But the way I've been skiing giant slalom the last year and a half or so, I think I have a lot of confidence in my ability to put down fast runs."
Indeed, Ligety has won seven of the last nine giant slaloms since last season, four overall World Cup crowns, and the world title last February - when he also won the super-G and the combined to become the first man in 45 years to take home three gold medals from the world championships.
In other words, he's the odds-on favorite to win gold at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"I knew after the first run that it was probably unlikely to beat Ted," Miller said. "He's just a really clutch performer in those situations. I wanted to make sure that when I got to the finish line, I at least let him know that I was coming for him, and there was no coasting."
For all the history Ligety made - he's tied for the second-longest streak of podium finishes in the giant slalom with 10, behind all-time leader Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden with 22 -Â much of the attention was on Miller after his apparent breakthrough.
Ligety fielded as many questions about his teammate as he did about himself, and said their competition is a healthy one.
"Now that he's back in good shape and healthy," Ligety said, "it's good to have somebody like that pushing you every day in training."
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta • Lindsey Vonn showed more progress Sunday in her comeback from major knee surgery and announced she's "ready for Sochi" after finishing an unofficial fifth through 45 racers in a World Cup super-G.
It was the third race this weekend for Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion and reigning Olympic downhill gold medalist, who hadn't competed since a high-speed crash at the world championships last February. She was 40th in Friday's downhill and 11th in Saturday's downhill.
Vonn had won seven consecutive races at Lake Louise through last year. This weekend was more about testing how her right knee would hold up, especially after she partially re-tore her ACL in a fall Nov. 19.
After skiing Sunday, Vonn said: "I know I can win again."
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta • Lara Gut of Switzerland won a super-G on Sunday by three-hundredths of a second for her fourth victory of a World Cup season that is only eight races old.
She's won two super-Gs, one downhill and one slalom.
Gut finished in 1 minute, 22.86 seconds to edge Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, while Anna Fenninger of Austria was third in 1:23.19. Wierather and Fenninger also finished 2-3 in Saturday's downhill.
Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn was fifth Sunday in 1:23.71, showing more progress in her comeback from major knee surgery after coming 40th on Friday, then 11th on Saturday. Another American, Leanne Smith, was sixth in the super-G.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who won both Lake Louise downhills, was 19th Sunday. WORLD CUP DOWNHILL
At Beaver Creek, Colo.
Gold -Â Ted Ligety, USA -Â 2:35.77
Silver -Â Bode Miller, USA -Â 2:37.09
Bronze -Â Marcel Hirscher, Austria -Â 2:37.59