SOELDEN, Austria (Oct. 28) - Olympic champion Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) opened the 2008 Audi FIS World Cup season in blazing fashion Sunday, finishing second in a giant slalom over a wind-swept course on the Rettenbach Glacier. Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH) was fifth and Dane Spencer (Boise, ID) returned to the World Cup 20 months after breaking his neck and pelvis in a racing crash. WCSN.com has the race available for on-demand viewing.
Ligety, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in combined and a winner in a GS a week after the Torino Games, led the first run. However, he couldn't match winner Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway on the bottom flats, dropping him to second in a time of 2:18.19. Defending overall World Cup champion - and reigning GS world champion - Svindal had the fastest second run to win in 2:17.87.
Miller, training independently this season and 17th in the first run, had the third-fastest second run and moved up a dozen places, finishing in 2:18.93. His first run was conservative but he attacked in traditional Bode fashion in the second run, taking risk and carrying tremendous speed. No other American qualified for the final run.
Ligety: Miller, Mancuso help fuel him
A mistake on the steep pitch on the upper part of the course cost Ligety valuable time. He quickly recovered but the flat light and bumpy conditions on the glacier nibbled at his time and cost him as Svindal laid down "a high-powered run," according to Head Coach Phil McNichol.
"Winning the first run is a little bit of a different experience than I'm used to," Ligety explained, "but I skied well (in the second run), made mistakes here and there...but, more than anything, Aksel beat me today. He did a great job."
Ligety said watching Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), also an Olympic champ from 2006, move up from 12th place to finish second Saturday in the women's opening GS and Miller's second run helped fuel his runs. "It was cool to see Bode's second run; he ripped it!
"We always root for each other and it's cool to see Americans doing well...to see Dane Spencer come back after breaking his neck and his pelvis - that was so cool. And Julia was unbelievable (Saturday). It definitely gave me a lot of confidence today - seeing how far back she came from after that first run. It was definitely cool for our Team."
The Olympic combined champion, who has branched out in the last two seasons beyond his traditional trump card of slalom, said one goal for '08 "is to challenge in both (slalom and GS). I'm confident in both events from my training this summer. I expect big things out of myself.
"The goal is always to win the slalom and GS title. I think I have the potential."
McNichol, Rearick laud Ligety's poise
McNichol praised Ligety's maturity as well as his obvious racing skills. "Standing in that start house for the second run with the lead, but flat light, a tough course - that was a difficult situation. And especially so knowing Bode had skied an epic run and Svindal skied a pretty immaculate run. But Ted held it together."
"This was so sweet! Ted on the podium is great but Dane doing what he's done in the last year and a half after breaking his neck. That's just about as big a story," said Slalom/GS Head Coach Sasha Rearick. "Ted worked so hard through the preseason, whether it was dryland training or at the camps, checking equipment, working on his technique and just learning how to win and handle the pressure. It all came together for him today.
"It's a great start for the season - for Ted, for Dane, for the Team. This is a pretty special day."
An overcast sky and temperatures near 30 F. created grippy, aggressive snow "but the best conditions I've ever seen in Soelden," McNichol said.
Spencer's return lifts everyone
Spencer faced another obstacle, beyond simply getting back into racing form. Italy's Arnold Rieder went out just before him and officials called a course hold.
"It's crazy to say, but my expectations have been ramped up," said McNichol, "because of the way he's (Dane) been skiing. But then he faces this course hold. And that's probably the worst thing for him. But Dane held tough and skied a solid run."
Spencer crashed in a NorAm race in February 2006 and broke his neck, returned to skiing last winter and to training with the U.S. Ski Team last spring. He was less than eight-tenths of a second away from reaching the top 30 in a tenacious return despite the gnarly conditions over the steep and rolling terrain.
It was a benchmark race with the ability to really compare competition levels for the first time. "Now we really know where we stand," said McNichol. "We haven't trained a lot this year against other teams, so we were scratching our heads a little bit. Now, though, we're in good shape and can reflect on the summer and look forward to the season. And we know with Ted we can compare against the best."
The next World Cup races will be men's and women's slaloms Nov. 10-11 in Levi, Finland, before the tour makes its annual North American swing later in the month. The U.S. Ski Team will return to its training base at Colorado's Keystone Resort.
2008 AUDI FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
Rettenbach Glacier (Season Opener)
Soelden, AUT - Oct. 28, 2007
Men's Giant Slalom1. Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway, 2:17.87
2. Ted Ligety, Park City, UT, 2:18.19
3. Kalle Palander, Finland, 2:18.26
4. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:18.53
5. Bode Miller, Bretton Woods, NH, 2:18.93
Did not qualify for 2nd run:
Jimmy Cochran, Keene, NH; Dane Spencer, Boise, ID; Jake Zamansky, Aspen, CO; Erik Schlopy, Park City, UT; Tim Jitloff, Reno, NV.
Photos from Soelden are available at ussa.smugmug.com