Germany's Felix Neureuther celebrates his third place on podium, after an alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan.12, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
Saturday, January 12, 2013 4:13 pm
American Ligety posting best World Cup season
By GRAHAM DUNBARAP Sports Writer
Victory on Saturday at the Adelboden giant slalom - one of the oldest and most traditional venues on tour - had the 28-year-old United States racer reflecting on his career achievements and the company he's keeping in the record books.
First, there was satisfaction in taming the snow-covered, Swiss cow pastures where the winner's list since the inaugural week of World Cup racing in 1967 reads like an Alpine who's who.
"It's the only classic GS I haven't won, so it's nice to get it," said Ligety, whose name is inscribed along with Jean-Claude Killy, Ingemar Stenmark, Alberto Tomba and Hermann Maier.
His 15th career World Cup win, all in his best discipline, also tied him with Tomba for career wins in World Cup giant slaloms.
"He was one of my childhood heroes," Ligety said of the flamboyant Italian great, whose four titles in the season-long GS standings from 1987-95 could be matched by the American this year. "I grew up watching World Cup ski racing and following it. It's cool to be able to have your name part of that history."
Ligety, who grew up in Park City, Utah, notched a fourth World Cup win in a season for the first time. The behind-the-scenes story of his third race win, at the Italian venue Alta Badia last month, is the subject of a TV broadcast Sunday.
Ligety has posted four wins, when he followed his 3-for-3 start to the 2010-11 GS campaign with a gold medal at the last world championships in Garmisch, Germany.
Still, Ligety insisted on Saturday: "It would be hard to argue this isn't my best season in GS."
It certainly will be if he defends his world title next month in Schladming, Austria, the next GS race on the calendar.
Perhaps what marks this season is how Ligety has adapted best to new International Ski Federation regulations that imposed longer skis on GS racers. It was expected to hamper his aggressive, hard-carving style.
"He is skiing at a higher level right now than ever," U.S. Alpine head coach Sasha Rearick told The Associated Press, "in terms of strategically understanding the hills and adapting his skis to different situations."
Ligety's closest rivals are quick to show their respect.
"Ted is for sure the best GS skier in the last few years and he will be in the next ones," said Felix Neureuther of Germany, who placed third on Saturday, a distant 1.24 seconds back from Ligety's combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 28.67 seconds.
Ligety's winning margin of 1.15 over German runner-up Fritz Dopfer was actually small by his standards this season - and owed plenty to a big mistake by first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria, the overall World Cup standings leader and the only other winner of a GS this season.
A predicted Ligety-Hirscher duel was following the script when they were almost one second faster than everyone else in the morning. Ligety had relied on an acrobatic recovery when he skied wide cresting the steep final slope.
In the afternoon, as bright sunshine disappeared behind the mountains, Ligety skied safely down the darkening course to give Hirscher a tough task.
Ligety celebrated taking the lead with a small punch of his left fist, then watched as Hirscher blew his comfortable lead with a big mistake in sight of the finish.
"I was definitely gifted it by Hirscher today because he would have beaten me by a good margin," Ligety said.
His 100-point win built a lead of 125 over Hirscher in the GS standings with three races left.
Hirscher, who placed 16th, acknowledged taking "too much risk."
"For 99 percent of the race, I was extremely fast," said the defending overall champion, who looked on the bright side. "It's great to see that I can beat Ligety."
Hirscher leads the overall by 26 points, ahead of Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who was sixth on Saturday.
Ligety was third overall, 103 behind Hirscher, although the Austrian will be favored to regain ground in the slalom on Sunday.
Though Ligety, the 2006 Olympic champion in combined, has only won giant slaloms in the World Cup circuit, he has all-around ambitions.
"That has always been a goal of mine," he said, citing admiration for two Norwegian greats who in the 1990s earned giant crystal globes given to the overall World Cup winner. "The heroes I had growing up were guys like (Kjetil Andre) Aamodt and (Lasse) Kjus, who could win at every event. So that is something I would definitely like to do."
To show it, Ligety will compete in the two classic downhills in the next two weekends at nearby Wengen, and the fearsome Streif slope at Kitzbuehel, Austria.
"I never wanted to be a specialist," he said.
Follow Graham Dunbar at https://twitter.com/gdunbarap