Once again, Ted Ligety is the giant slalom man at the top of the podium on the World Cup.
And the 2012-13 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup is down to its final events Wednesday through Sunday, March 13-17 at Lenzerheide, Switz.
Ligety won’t have to worry about a challenge from Austria’s relentless Marcel Hirscher when the World Cup Finals men’s giant slalom is staged Saturday at Lenzerheide.
The Park City, Utah technical ace shredded the wet snow with authority, winning the Kranjska Gora giant slalom and securing his fourth Audi FIS Alpine World Cup GS title of his career Saturday on the Slovenian slope.
Two-time world giant slalom champion Ligety, 28, used his aggressive arcs to power down the rutted course ahead of Hirscher to win his fifth giant slalom race this season and a record fifth in Kranjska Gora.
Ligety secured the fourth Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom title of his career with a wire-to-wire victory in Kranjska Gora. The win mathematically secured the title with one giant slalom race left in the season.
He has now been on every World Cup GS podium this season, the first man to be on the podium in at least the first seven giant slalom races of a World Cup season since Swiss star Michael von Grünigen did it in the first eight races of 1995-96. Ligety has 36 podiums in his nine-year international career.
Ligety is also now the fifth man to win at least five giant slalom races in one season, and the first since Hermann Maier in 2000-01. The others to have achieved this feat are Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (three times), Michael von Grünigen and Alberto Tomba of Italy.
Ligety has now surpassed Tomba, moving into outright third place all-time in men's World Cup giant slalom victories with 16. Stenmark (46) and von Grünigen (23) are the only men with more World Cup giant slalom wins.
“This has been a dream season in giant slalom,” said Ligety.
After his win Saturday, Ligety added, “To win here again is incredible and I’m really proud of it. Racing in the rain isn’t my favorite thing. It’s a big weight off my back. I had an awesome season in giant slalom but Hirscher was with me the whole season. It makes it tough going for the title. It was a head game when he was so close all along.
“It’s cool to go into World Cup Finals without the stress of the giant slalom title, but my goal now is to get third in the overall. Felix (Neureuther of Germany) and I have been battling for that position for a little while now and with his giant slalom and slalom power, that's going to be difficult. But hopefully I can ski a good super G and also ski well in the giant slalom and we'll see what happens. I'll ski everything from now until the season is done.
“Its tough to rank this title with any other. They’re all special in different ways. Winning my first was the most special, but this year was really good. It’s far and away my best season and winning every giant slalom except two and being on the podium in the other one is doing it in the right fashion.”
Sunday, Ligety and the other competitors contended with deep ruts, rain and snow, but Ligety finished 18th in the Kransjka Gora slalom. In his first run, Ligety made a mistake about three gates down and almost wheeled out, but recovered to finished 21st.
Hirscher was second, mathematically securing the 2013 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom title as his only challenger, Neureuther, went out in the first run. The outcome meant that Ligety now stands firmly third in the World Cup overall standings with five races left in the season.
Ligety will enter World Cup Finals with a 74-point lead on third in overall standings over Neureuther. Ivica Kostelic from Croatia won Sunday’s slalom for his first victory of the season.
Coming up at the World Cup Finals: Downhill for men and women on Wednesday, March 13, super giant slalom for men and women Thursday, men’s GS and women’s slalom on Saturday, March 16, and men’s slalom and women’s GS on Sunday.
One of the closest discipline races to watch this week is in slalom, where American teen Mikaela Shiffrin trails first-place Tina Maze of Slovenia 595-588 going into the homestretch. Shiffrin turns 18 years old on Wednesday, March 13.
In women’s overall standings Maze leads with 2,254 points, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch seems to be stalled at 1,065, third-place Anna Fenninger of Austria is rushing hard with 984 and fourth-place Julie Mancuso of the U.S. Ski Team has 835. Shiffrin currently stands in eighth place with 698 points.
Hirscher leads the overall World Cup standings with 1,375 points to 1,226 for Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. Ligety stands in third place with 922 points. He is 74 points ahead of fourth-place Felix Neureuther of Germany (848).
World Cup women in Germany
Birthday girl Julia Mancuso, 29, of Squaw Valley, Ca. battled wet snow and flat light to finish eighth in the Ofterschwang giant slalom on Saturday, March 9.
Austria’s Anna Fenninger took control of third in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup overall standings with her third career GS victory, as Maze settled for second place Saturday.
Maze had already secured the World Cup overall and giant slalom titles prior to the race, but she still posted another record becoming the first woman in history with eight giant slalom podium finishes in a season.
Meanwhile, Mancuso continued her late-season drive.
Said Mancuso, “I want to win a race this year, so that’s my first goal. To be in a chase for a globe is always a dream. I really want to win a globe. I think that if I can win a race that goal will also come true. Right now I’m focusing on one race at a time. I want to win that SG in Lenzerheide (on Thursday).
U.S. sophomore sensation Mikaela Shiffrin of Eagle-Vail, Colo. went out in the first run after she caught air over a roller and couldn’t get the direction back to the left foot gate.
Shiffrin, the newly crowned slalom world champion, returned to action Sunday for slalom and carried a 33-point lead in the discipline standings over Maze.
After leading the first run, Shiffrin powered through softening snow to finish third at Ofterschwang—her fifth Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom podium of the season. Maze skied a near-perfect second run to bump Shiffrin to third and Swiss Wendy Holdener to second.
It was Shiffrin’s fifth World Cup slalom podium in only her second full season on the World Cup.
World Cup overall and giant slalom champion Maze won the race to set up a winner take all showdown for the slalom title at World Cup Finals as she jumped eight points ahead of Shiffrin in the standings.
Shiffrin said about Saturday’s upcoming challenge with Maze at Lenzerheide, “I’ll just go as hard as I can and see if I can get it (the slalom title) back or, if not, I’ve still had an amazing season so I can’t be disappointed.
“I’m definitely proud of myself, but you always want more. I always want more. Yeah, I want the globe, but we’ll see if it works out that way. Tina’s had an amazing season and she just keeps going, so that’s really cool and inspiring.
“Yeah, it isn’t over ‘til the fat lady sings, that’s a phrase we have in the U.S. (laughs). I’m really excited for Lenzerheide. I trained there a few weeks ago and it is a really awesome hill. It’s always exciting to have the very last race be important to the end. It’s nice to know that in the slalom this year there was a battle for the end and anybody could win.
“I’m happy that I got a podium today and am looking at the positives, but I definitely wanted to win. In the end I’m just trying to ski my best. I didn’t quite do that the second run, which just means I’m going to go back and look at my video and figure out what I can do better.
“Yeah, she’s (Tina Maze) been unbelievable this season, and what’s this her 22nd or 23rd podium? That’s a lot. I think she’s been on every podium except for maybe two this season. There’s a lot to say for that, to be able to perform her very best, or maybe it’s not even her best, but to perform well on race day in every race, it’s just really cool.
“I think everybody is going to go back to the drawing board this summer and figure out what she did that worked so well.”