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Mikaela Shiffrin will have to wait another couple of weeks before she gets to push out of the start gate. Though ready to defend her giant slalom victory from last year, Shiffrin and the rest of the U.S. women’s tech contingency didn’t get a chance to click into their skis for Saturday’s planned season-opening World Cup race in Sölden, Austria, as rain and wet snowfall caused officials to cancel the event on the Rettenbach glacier.
Shiffrin’s first World Cup race of the season will now be kicked down the road to the slalom in Levi, Finland, on November 19.
While Saturday’s women’s race was a literal wash, the men enjoyed improved conditions. On a sunny, warm day in the Austrian Alps, giant slalom master Marco Odermatt started where he left off last season—dominating GS. The 25-year-old Swiss Olympic champion battled deteriorating snow on Sölden’s Rettenbach glacier to win the season’s first World Cup GS by 0.69 seconds ahead of runner-up Zan Kranjec from Slovenia.
“I’m really happy it was enough to win the race,” Odermatt told TV news reporters after the second run.
Former GS world champion Henrik Kristoffersen led a trio of Norwegians in the 3-4-5 spots. Kristoffersen, 28, was one of few men to beat Odermatt in his favorite discipline last season.
For the Americans, the day belonged to Tommy Ford. In just his third World Cup in almost two years, the 33-year-old GS skier from Bend, Oregon, started with bib 35 and finished the first run in 26th place. Then, with his preternatural feel for the snow, Ford skied the fastest-second run and jumped to sixth.
Ford’s second-run time was 1.22 seconds faster than Odermatt’s. And the American sat on the finish line’s “hot seat” as 20 racers tried to depose him from this throne.
“That first run was good-feeling skiing but I knew it wasn’t fast, it felt too good,” Ford said after the race. “Second run, I was definitely letting it go, more on edge, on that limit.”
“But not surprising at all,” he added, when asked if he was surprised to finish sixth. “I’ve been working at it. Done it before. It’s been a nice building summer. My knee is feeling good.”
Watch: Tommy Ford’s second run in Sölden GS
It was Ford’s best result since he returned to ski racing after a devastating crash on January 9, 2021 at the Adelboden World Cup GS. Three gates from the finish, he landed on his head, then slid into the netting lining the course. The sum of his injuries: two torn ligaments in his right knee and a fractured tibial plateau, torn ligaments in his left wrist, and a concussion.
During the long rehab process, Ford questioned whether he would be able to return to ski racing. He has three World Cup podiums on his résumé, including a win, and was ranked fourth overall in GS when he crashed. In a breakthrough GS at Beaver Creek in 2019, he won, beating then-World Cup GS leader Kristoffersen. He knew he could do more.
Recovering from the concussion was perhaps the hardest part of rehab. He struggled with his eyes and vision, and had mood swings. The negative emotions came in waves, even up to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games last winter. When he could not ski, he played Mario Kart. In all seriousness, it was an important part of his rehab.
Ford was training fast by January 2022 so was named to his third Olympic team last winter; the Olympic GS in Beijing was his first race since the crash. “Pretty scared” at the start of that race, Ford ended up a remarkable 12th place in Beijing.
Ford competed in two World Cup GS events last March, finishing 22nd in one and not qualifying for a second run in the other. He then had surgery on his knee to remove the hardware.
During off-season training, Ford found his groove again. Teammate River Radamus commented that “he looked like Tommy again” in the way that he skied. And in the days before the Sölden World Cup, Ford was racing go karts at what looked to be a nearby motorsport arena.
In Sölden, Ford did indeed look like his unflappable self. He started fourth on his second run, and the early run on the afternoon’s course no doubt helped in the warm conditions.
“That always helps,” Ford joked. “You’ve got to play the game.”
Behind Ford, River Radamus had a tough second run, falling from 11th to finish 26th. The 24-year-old from Vail finished sixth in Sölden last year and hoped to make a similar statement this season.
For the second year in a row, Ryan Cochran-Siegle missed qualifying for a second run by one place, finishing 31st first run. And in his first World Cup, Isaiah Nelson finished a respectable 45th first run. Nelson is the reigning world junior super-G champion. Like Lindsey Vonn and Paula Moltzan, he grew up skiing at Minnesota’s Buck Hill under legendary coach Erich Sailer.
From Sölden, Cochran-Siegle was supposed to head to Zermatt, Switzerland, for the first-ever Zermatt-Cervinia downhill. But warm weather in the Alps caused organizers to cancel this race’s debut. The first men’s speed race will be the traditional season speed opener in Lake Louise, Canada. The next giant slalom is seven weeks away (December 10-11) in Val d’Isere, France.
Related: 2023 alpine World Cup schedule
Ford’s next race is likely the parallel event in Lech Zürs, Austria, on November 12-13. Ford and Radamus helped the U.S. finish fourth in the parallel team event at the 2022 Olympic Games. But the roster for this race is still TBD. Ford also plans to “fight for some super-G spots.”
View the full results from the men’s GS race in Sölden here.