Hirscher speeds ahead for GS win in Beaver Creek

04 December 2011 18:13

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – The tension was palpable as, after leading the first run of the Beaver Creek World Cup giant slalom Sunday, Ted Ligety made his way down the second run as the last racer on course. Before him, Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who only trailed by 0.21 seconds after the first run, lit the second run on fire. So although Ligety led at the top steeps on the course, he fell behind at the bottom and Hirscher took the victory, 0.16 seconds ahead of the American.

Chest heaving from racing on the World Cup’s highest elevation GS course (with a start at 3,136 meters), Hirscher, who finished third last year in Beaver Creek when Ligety won, was thrilled with the victory.

“With the high elevation, I’m totally done,” Hirscher said. “I tried to do my best skiing. It was amazing. Three or four years ago, I hated this place. But things are changing. I like it now. It was hard work but an amazing victory.”

Also amazing was German Fritz Dopfer who had never before landed in the World Cup top 10, but who finished third Sunday, 0.62 seconds away from the winning time.

It was Hirscher’s third World Cup giant slalom victory (the other two were in Val d’Isere in 2009 and Kranska Gora 2010) and his first podium in the discipline since last year’s race on the same hill. In last year’s race, however, Ligety beat him by more than a second.

“It’s great because to be the Mr. GS is very important because in Austria Ted is unbreakable. So it’s a pretty big success for me to beat him today,” Hirscher said, adding that the long preparation period he and his Austrian team had here leading up to the race Sunday helped tremendously.

“Today it was totally different than the other years before here,” he said. “Before, three years ago, it was tough for me to qualify with the aggressive snow. I learned a lot last year with third position. We flew over here two weeks ago. This was important for us to ski the Nor-Am races, two in Loveland and two in Aspen. There I had a good feeling. I skied well. This was very important, we trained especially on this aggressive [snow] so it wasn’t that heavy for me to race here.”

Although 15 centimeters of fresh snow covered Beaver Creek to start the day Sunday and snowfall continued through the first run, when visibility changed intermittently with fog and sun, Ligety, who won the season opening GS in Soelden in October, said the snow was the same as it has been all weekend in Beaver Creek, but more aggressive than it has been for a GS race.

“First run I was just trying to get used to the snow, it’s so aggressive up there, I think a lot of people were having problems with it,” Ligety said, adding that two-tenths of a lead over Hirscher wasn’t much of a cushion going into the second run. “You never really know what lead is going to be enough. You always still have to go hard for it. Hirscher obviously skied great and I skied well, too. [There were] just little bobbles here and there. You can’t expect to win them all.”

Speaking of expectations, Dopfer never expected nor dared dream that he would do so well in Beaver Creek on Sunday. The 24-year-old German only had nine points-scoring races on the World Cup coming into Sunday’s GS, although he started building his way up last season, landing his top previous result of 12th in the Kranska Gora GS and following up with a 13th this year in Soelden.

“It was a big surprise for me,” Dopfer said. “It’s just amazing to be on the podium, to step beside such great athletes. I can’t believe it.”

Dopfer and his German team also got in a bit of high-elevation training leading up to the weekend, starting on Colorado snow on 18 Nov. As far as honing his GS skills in particular, the tech specialist said he always looks to Ligety to improve his technique.

“Every time I watch a video, I watch Ted. He’s like a role model for me,” Dopfer said. “To be on the podium with him … it’s just crazy.”

All of the podium finishers set themselves significantly apart from the rest of the field, all of which finished a half a second or more behind, beginning with fourth-place Kjetil Jansrud, who was the closest to Ligety in last year’s Beaver Creek GS. On Sunday, he was 1.12 seconds away from the win. Another unexpected performance, however, came from the fifth place-finisher, Finland’s Marcus Sandell. It was the top career result for the 24-year-old, who spent several minutes in the leader’s box and finished 1.31 seconds off the winning time. France’s Cyprien Richard was sixth Sunday, 1.32 seconds back, Austrian Phillipp Schoerghofer seventh, 1.36 seconds back, Carlo Janka eighth, 1.56 seconds back and Alexis Pinturault and Aksel Lund Svindal tied for ninth, 1.59 seconds back.

Just more than a half a second back after the first run, Benjamin Raich was charging in the second run, building speed and leading the entire way down, then he slid onto his hip and missed a gate near the bottom, becoming one of two racers to DNF in the second run. Nine athletes failed to finish the first run, including Saturday’s Beaver Creek super G champion Sandro Viletta, who missed a gate at the top of the course.

Athletes all seemed very excited to stick around Beaver Creek for a few days, especially for the GS rematch on Tuesday, when Beaver Creek begins hosting the races moved from Val d’Isere. The schedule is set for men’s GS on Tuesday, women’s super G Wednesday and men’s slalom Thursday.

Go here for video with Hirscher, Ligety and Dopfer.

Go here for full Sunday race results.

by Shauna Farnell