It's the top step for Ted Ligety in Soelden
SOELDEN, Austria – On a course which according to most athletes had been prepared better than ever before, in front of about 14, 000 cheering fans and under a sky that seemed like it was trying to make up for letting the men’s race down last year, Soelden’s race once again proved to be an exciting introduction to the rest of the season.
By putting together two flawless runs, Ted Ligety showed once again to be the king of GS. Ligety’s overall time of 2 minutes, 22.00 seconds proved to be unbeatable for the rest of the athletes.
For many, the biggest surprise of the day came from the young French athlete Alexis Pinturault. He proved that his first career podium last year in Kranjska Gora was no accident when he finished second again on Sunday, only 0.29 seconds behind Ligety. Austrian’s Philipp Schoerghofer managed to hold tight to the position achieved in the first run, rounding out the podium in third, 0.51 seconds slower than the winner.
Carlo Janka, second after the first run, didn’t manage to keep his podium position. By losing some time in the steepest section of the race, he missed it by only 0,07 seconds, still proving once again that apart from the speed disciplines, he can be really competitive in GS as well.
Although he lost some time on the steep, Ligety kept his lead through his whole second run.
“It’s never easy, in the second run, it’s sunny everywhere except the ski pitch,t’s easy to lose two seconds in bumpy sections,“ Ligety said. “To hammer down that pitch in the second run wasn’t easy. It was really bumpy and chunky. You had to fight the whole way down. You never know what’s going to happen. I was skiing fast in training –that doesn’t count for anything until you do it in a race. It’s more anxiety to do it in a race. To win – especially against guys like that is pretty awesome. When you are the favorite, there is always added pressure. It’s going to be a big fight this year.”
Pinturault had two great runs, the young French athlete was the youngest one in the second run but showed he might be the guy to watch this season. After making his way to fourth position from bib No. 20 in the first run, he pushed it a bit further in the second one.
“Amazing start of the year and I hope it will be continued. I knew what I had to do and I did it, now I’m second. I hope my first victory might be close,“ Pinturault said. “I’m really proud of what I achieved today. I knew I had the chance and I took it. This is really exciting.”
Apart from his second podium, Pinturault got the satisfaction of being greatly praised by a three-time Overall GS champion. Ligety seemed impressed by the capabilities of this young athlete.
“He’s seven years younger and he almost beat me. It’s scary watching him ski. It’s crazy that someone born in ‘91 made his way on podium – I’m not looking forward to the kind of speed he has. I say that in the nicest way as possible. I just want to beat him,“ Ligety said, adding that he plans to ski all disciplines this season. “I’ll ski everything as much as I feel I’m skiing fast enough. That will justify taking four days away from other training. I feel one of my best chances for the overall is to go after the slalom.”
After finishing third in the overall GS standings last season, Schoerghofer seemed more than pleased with his third place finish.
“Any time to be on the podium is exciting. I won my first race in Hinterstoder, now a podium in Soelden, First run I think I was not very good because I skied straight in the gates and lost time. In the second run I was fighting,“ he said.
Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic put down the best time of the second run, which allowed him to make the biggest step forward. He moved from 18th place to fifth and he seemed to have made up most of his time on the bottom section. Kostelic couldn’t hide the satisfaction of starting the season with such a good result.
“The most beautiful thing is crossing the line and seeing you are in the lead. Nice way to start the season. I had a terrible feeling coming down and I don’t know why,“ Kostelic said. If this is what he achieves while having a terrible feeling coming down the slope, one can be sure to expect great things from him through the season. It seems as if he doesn’t plan to let go of that big crystal globe all that easily.
Kalle Palander suffered an ugly crash in the steep section of his second run. Although it looked pretty bad, it seems the Finnish veteran was lucky and didn’t get hurt.
“I think my knee is ok, just a bit torn or something. I slipped and got caught,“ Palander said. “It’s terrible to go into the net and my bum hurts. The first thing when I left, I thought I broke my cross ligament, but now it feels ok. I was pretty easy in my first run. It’s my first time in 10 or 11 years with such a high number. I thought it was enough but it proved to be close [to missing the second run]. In the second run I tried to push a little more and pushed into the net, it’s not so fun to be there.”
The only other athlete apart from Palander who didn’t make it to the finish of the second run was Didier Cuche. He was putting down a good run, 0.04 seconds ahead of Kostelic who was leading at the time, when his ski got caught in the snow. Unfortunately by the time he recovered, he was already past the next gate and the race for him was over.
The first racing weekend is over and the US team is definitely going home with a big smile. Great weather, exciting atmosphere created by big crowds, thrilling performances on both the women’s and men’s races made this the perfect way to kick off a new season.
Check out the Soelden 2011 men's podium video here.
by Ana Jelusic