Aksel Lund Svindal

Bode goes 'epic' in last training run


KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Bode Miller’s first thought in the start house Saturday was that he was going to take it easy on this, the final day of training before Sunday’s Olympic downhill. Then, being Bode, he thought, what the hell. He had an opportunity to express himself in the manner of a great artist at the top of his work.

Which is what he is, as we should all recognize.

Or, as Bode put it later, “It’s a pleasure for me to ski on this track. I would be angry with myself if I had wasted this opportunity to properly run on this track. It tests your ability to the maximum.”

For the rest of this post, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://nbco.ly/1g6es0Z

Bode and the first run -- all good


KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — An Olympic downhill comes along once every four years. It is meant in every way to be a demanding test, physically and, equally, mentally. The men’s downhill course here runs just over two miles, the women’s just under.

Bode Miller meets the press after Thursday's downhill training at Rosa Khutor

When they first encountered the setup here two years ago, Bode Miller was saying here Thursday, “that year it was our most challenging downhill,” and keep in mind the World Cup tour hits all the famous mountains you might want to name in the world.

After winning the first of three scheduled training runs in 2: 07.75, Miller said, “I would say this year it’s equal.”

For the rest of this post, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/1c7pFKF


Ligety reigns over giant slalom

It rained Saturday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. That's a crummy way to race a ski race like a World Cup giant slalom. To see out your goggles is kinda-sorta like seeing through the windshield of your car, and in the second of the two runs several racers had to made like windshield wipers, reaching up to wipe off their goggles. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway wiped off his goggles. At least he finished, a more-than-respectable sixth. Fritz Dopfer of Germany wasn't so lucky. He hit a gate with his head; that knocked his goggles off; reaching for them, he appeared to get stuck in slushy snow and went flying off into the protective fencing.

These were the conditions Ted Ligety had to navigate to lock down his fifth giant slalom victory of the season and, in the process, his fourth World Cup giant slalom title.

Ligety led Austria's Marcel Hirscher by six-tenths of a second after the first run. In the second run's rain, Hirscher ended up finishing 45-hundredths back.

France's Alexis Pinturault took third, 77-hundredths behind.

Ligety's winning overall time: 2:35.43.

Ligety's lead in the giant slalom standings: an insurmountable 620-495.

In the World Cup overall standings, Hirscher leads Svindal by 69 points. Ligety stands (a distant) third.

Ligety's three prior giant slalom titles: 2008, 2010, 2011.

"It's a big weight off my back," Ligety said. "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."

"For me this is a very successful day," Hirscher said. "In the second run I was faster than Ted Ligety and that makes for a fantastic day. Conditions were tough. It was raining pretty strong and it wasn't an easy run on the soft snow."

This was Ligety's 16th career victory, all in giant slalom, and his fifth win at Kranjska Gora (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012). As he said, "This hill is awesome. It has everything. I'm super-proud to win here again."

More history books: Ligety is now third all-time, behind Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Michael von Gruenigen (23) for World Cup giant slalom wins. He had been tied with Alberto Tomba.

For the season: this was Ligety's eighth win. He took three gold medals at the world championships.

As a measure of his consistency: Ligety recorded top-three finishes in all seven of the season's giant slalom races; there's one left to go. He is the first racer to do so since von Gruenigen, in 1996.

"Racing in the rain isn't my favorite thing," he said, but you do what you have to do. "I grew up in Park City, Utah, and only skied in 25 degrees and sunny."

Ligety wins second gold at 2013 alpine worlds

The last time Ted Ligety won what in alpine ski racing is now called the super-combined event  -- a race with downhill and slalom events -- was so long ago it was simply called the combined. Seven long years.

That was the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.

He came through again Monday, and again on the big stage, at skiing's 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria.

Truthfully, Ligety didn't just win, he dominated. The daylight downhill run left him standing sixth, in solid position to attack. Then, under the lights at night, he executed a slalom run that was both on-edge and safe to win it all by a whopping 1.15 seconds over Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Austria's Romed Baumann finished another two-hundredths behind for third.

Ligety's total winning time: 2 minutes, 56.96 seconds. The downhill portion: 2:02.10; the slalom, 54.86 seconds.

Ligety's victory marked his second title at the 2013 worlds. He won the super-G last Friday.

American Ted Ligety stands alone as the winner of the super-combined at the 2013 alpine world championships // photo Mitchell Gunn ESPA, courtesy US Ski Team

Neither is considered his best event. That would be the giant slalom, which will be run this coming Friday. Ligety is widely viewed as the favorite in that event, having won four of five giant slalom races on the World Cup tour this season. He is a three-time World Cup giant slalom season champion.

Obviously, Ligety is on a huge confidence and momentum roll, the kind that sets you up to be -- at least on the men's side -- The Face of the U.S. Ski Team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Which, frankly, is at it should be.

That's no disrespect to any of the other guys on the U.S. team, in particular Bode Miller, who is taking this year off to let a knee heal. None whatsoever. If Bode comes back strong, all's the better. No one -- that's no one in the world, not just anyone in the United States -- has Bode's on-ski style and verve.

That said, Ligety is no longer the 21-year-old surprise of the 2006 Torino Games.

Sochi would be Ligety's third Olympics, and he is by now a team leader and proven big-time competitor. Now, too, Ligety is world champion in three different events -- giant slalom at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2011, and super-G and super-combined in 2013. Ligety also won bronze in the giant slalom at the world championships at Val d'Isere, France, in 2009.

Plus, in Sochi, Ligety would have something to prove, believe it or not.

His gold in the combined in Torino is his only Olympic medal. He was shut out in Vancouver in 2010.

Miller is a multiple Olympic medalist, in Vancouver and in Salt Lake City in 2002, and at the worlds did what Ligety has now done -- win two golds at the same world championships. He did it twice, in fact, in Bormio, Italy, in 2005 (downhill and super-G) and St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003 (giant slalom and combined).

That kind of range marks you as a great all-around skier.

Ligety has never -- again, never -- wanted to be considered as a guy who only skis the giant slalom.

"I never wanted to be a specialist," Ligety said Monday, adding a moment later, "To have three world championships in three different events is pretty surreal -- it's a pretty cool feeling."

When Miller won his combined titles, and when Ligety won the combined at the Olympics in 2006, the combined was one downhill and two slaloms. Now the super-combined is one downhill and one slalom.

The way Ligety positioned himself to win Monday speaks volumes about his maturity and race savvy.

Ligety said he had been puzzling over how to best ski the downhill. It wasn't so much that the mountain was so treacherous. In fact, it was comparatively easy. The challenge was finding speed -- meaning the right line.

In the race itself, he figured it out, finishing sixth. There are times when sixth can, as Ligety later called it, prove "awesome." This was one of those times, because he was less than a second out of first, behind Austria's Baumann, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, Italy's Christof Innerhofer, France's Adrien Theaux and another Italian, Dominik Paris -- guys who, with the exception of Svindal, are generally more known for speed than technical slalom skill.

Ligety's concern, as he explained after the downhill, was Kostelic, in 10th, and Austria's Benjamin Raich, in 12th.

Svindal, Innerhofer and Theaux all failed to finish the slalom. Raich went out, too. Paris would finish ninth.

Ligety racing to victory in the slalom under the lights // photo by Mitchell Gunn ESPA, courtesy US Ski Team

Kostelic ran before Ligety, taking the lead -- but, in skiing the night leg in 55.36 seconds, gave Ligety a huge opening. It's not that Kostelic was particularly slow. It's just that he could have been faster. Which Ligety knew.

"I just tried to ski as smart as I can," Ligety said moments after skiing the field's second-fastest run of the night, that 54.86, pumping his fists after crossing the finish line, knowing he had the race won. "I'm not always that smart in slalom. I just tried to have a solid run the whole way down and not try to make too many mistakes.

"To see the green light at the bottom," meaning first place,"was a really sweet feeling."


Ligety wins first-ever super-G

When the Austrians throw a ski party, make no mistake. It's great. They're super-glad to welcome friends and visitors. But they expect, indeed demand, victory. Alpine racing in Austria is like the NFL in the United States. It's what they do. It doesn't get any bigger. It's why, at the opening ceremony of the world championships a couple days ago in Schladming, the Herminator -- famed racer Hermann Maier -- shared the stage with the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenneger, the Austrian-born actor and former California governor.

After two races at the worlds, the Austrians are oh-for-six while the U.S Ski Team, capped by Ted Ligety's stunning win Wednesday in the super-G, already has two medals. Julia Mancuso took third Tuesday in the women's super-G.

There are many races yet to go at these championships. But even with the season-ending injury that Lindsey Vonn suffered Tuesday, even with Bode Miller taking a little time off, let there be no doubt:

The U.S. team is deep and capable, and building with purpose toward the Sochi 2014 Games, which start in exactly one year.

Ted Ligety on the way to winning the world championship super-G // photo by Mitchell Gunn/ESPA, courtesy of U.S. Ski Team

Ligety's winning time, in front of a crowd of 24,000 people: 1:23.96. France's Gauthier De Tessieres -- a late starter, replacing an injured teammate -- took a surprise second, 20-hundredths of a second back. Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, winner of three of four World Cup super-Gs this season, was third, another two-hundredths back.

American Thomas Biesemeyer finished 13th; Ryan Cochran-Siegle, after starting 25th, finished 15th.

Another American, Andrew Weibrecht, bronze medalist in the super-G at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, was challenging for a medal but missed a gate near the end.

"Weibrecht's skiing today was awesome -- fantastic skiing," U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick said afterward. "Unfortunately, he got a little bit unlucky on one turn there at the bottom.

"Biesemeyer did a great job coming back from injury to get into the points [meaning the World Cup start list] and RCS, starting in the back -- where people had no chance -- he skied great, excellent execution. For a 21-year-old kid to do that, here at the world champs, is really, really fun to see. Awesome momentum-building."

As for Ligety: the victory marked his first super-G win, ever.

At any race level.

This from a skier who is an Olympic gold-medalist in the combined (2006), world champion in the giant slalom (2011) and three-time World Cup season GS title winner.

This season, Ligety had continued his giant slalom dominance -- he leads the GS points race by 125, over Austria's Marcel Hirscher -- but had stepped up his game in other disciplines, super-G in particular, with a sixth at Kitzbühel and two fourth-place finishes.

He had written on his blog last week about the course at Schladming, "I'm one of the better guys in super-G, and that super-G hill in Schladming is steep and technical, giving me a very good chance of medaling."

Just to show you how difficult the alpine game can be, however, it's not just that the course is steep and technical, or that the light can be flat, which it was Wednesday -- there are variables the real pros, like Ligety, have to learn to master.

The course Wednesday featured 42 gates. Who set the course? Norway coach Tron Moger. He also fixed the gates when Svindal won the super-G in Val Gardena, Italy, in December.

Svindal later said, as Associated Press reported, "I took a lot of risks and had a small mistake at the end. The conditions were OK but not ideal. With this [low] light, you don't see the bumps. I am satisfied. Ted did just great."

What Ligety did seems risky but actually makes total sense. He used his giant slalom skills to shave time at the bottom, where it was steeper. That's where he won the race.

"The bottom I knew I could make up time -- it suited my technique," Ligety said. "I took a lot of risk. It was a good day."

Twelve years ago, the Austrians thought they had the super-G wired at the 2001 world championships in their backyard, in St. Anton. American Daron Rahlves came in and won it.

"Ted has been skiing great. All season he has been charging -- clean skiing and with the confidence to take it down the hill at super-G speeds," Rearick said, adding a moment later, "We had a great training camp leading into here. He came in skiing with confidence and executed great skiing. When you put those things together -- why not?"

Lindsey Vonn makes a statement

After yet another spectacular performance by Lindsey Vonn Friday in Lake Louise, Canada, one seriously has to wonder: why can't she ski against the guys? Vonn won the first of three World Cup races over the weekend in Lake Louise, a downhill, by an absurd 1.73 seconds.

American Stacey Cook took second -- her first World Cup podium, and the first 1-2 finish for U.S. women in a World Cup downhill since 2006. Germany's Maria Höfl-Riesch and Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather tied for third, one-hundredth of a second behind Cook.

Vonn had petitioned skiing's international governing authority, FIS, for permission to race here last week against the men. FIS turned her down, essentially saying  men race against men and that's that.

Since then, Max Gartner, the president of Alpine Canada, has said he's in talks with Red Bull, which sponsors Vonn, to put together a race, and to hold it at Lake Louise.

Such a race would be a marketing and publicity boon for a sport that needs it, especially here in the United States.

Alpine skiing is great stuff. Lindsey Vonn is a great champion. FIS should put her front and center, someway, somehow. What's so difficult about that?

Lindsey Vonn skis to her 54th World Cup victory in Lake Louise, Canada // photo courtesy US Ski Team

Aksel Lund Svindal, the two-time overall men's World Cup champion from Norway, gets it, and told the Canadian Press: "I've trained with her. My experience is if you are on a hill that she likes and you don't ski good, she can beat you. It's realistic that she would be in the race."

Vonn said after flying down the course Friday, "Well, I kind of felt like I had to win today. I mean, like you say you want to race with the men -- you can't really not win the women's races. I knew that. I was trying to prove a point, mostly to myself but to everyone else who doesn't think I should race with the men. I don't know. I just do my best."

Lindsey Vonn's best, especially at Lake Louise, is so good one struggles to keep finding words to describe just how good.

The first victory of her career -- ever -- came in Lake Louise, in 2004.

Friday's victory marked her 54th. She now stands one behind Vreni Schneider on the all-time women's list.

It was her 12th in Lake Louise -- 10 in the downhill, two in super-G.

It was her fifth straight victory there and first of the still-young 2012-13 World Cup season.

Last year, she won the first of the two Lake Louise downhills in 1:53.19. Her winning margin in that race was an absurd 1.95 seconds.

She followed that up by winning the Saturday downhill by "only" 1.68 seconds, and then winning Sunday's super-G.

This year, her winning time Friday: 1:52.61. At the second speed check, she was flying along at 84 mph.

Making all this even more outlandish: Vonn was in a Vail, Colo., hospital just a little over two weeks ago with stomach pains. In a column she writes in the Denver Post, she said that after she was released it made her tired just walking down the hall of her condo: 'I felt like I was 100 years old, and I couldn't even think about skiing."

At the end of last Saturday's race in Aspen, she collapsed in exhaustion.

This, however, has always been the Lindsey Vonn way.

She has faced a succession of extraordinary challenges: a crash in the downhill in Torino in 2006, a gashed thumb at the world championships in Val d'Isere in 2009, a banged-up shin before the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

Invariably, she rises to the occasion.

After the race Friday, Vonn was asked -- naturally -- how she felt, and if you were the other women on the tour, maybe you would be giving some thought to the notion of whether she ought to race the guys at Lake Louise, because this is what she had to say: "It just gives me confidence."

Marco Sullivan's "awesome" podium finish

Alpine racing is a hard game. The snow is really ice, and it's often ferociously cold and treacherous out there. The potential for injury is significant. There's enormous pressure to produce, and if you don't, you run the risk of having your sponsors tell you thanks but, you know, we're moving on. Marco Sullivan has been there and done that.

All of that.

It's why finishing third, like he did Saturday in the World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, is all the sweeter.

"When I saw third place," he said, "it was kind of surreal," adding, "I don't remember the next couple of minutes."

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal won the race, in 1:48.31. It was his 17th World Cup victory.

Austria's Max Franz, who had crossed first in Wednesday's training run, took second, 64-hundredths behind, for his first World Cup podium finish.

Sullivan and Austria's Klaus Kroell tied for third, just two-hundredths behind Franz.

Even the U.S. coach, Sasha Rearick, was, well, surprised.

"He's got the right direction," Rearick said of Sullivan, adding, "A bigger step than I expected today. But he has been doing the right things."

Sullivan, who is from the Lake Tahoe area, is one of a number of good guys on the U.S. team. He skied in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.

That said, he's now 31 and has been one of the guys for 13 years now.

It was no lock he was going to make this season lucky 13.

Sullivan acknowledges now that his place on the team had seemed in "a little bit of jeopardy."

He had, he said, been battling herniated discs in his back from a 2009 crash.

Two seasons ago, there was a nasty concussion.

This past spring -- after two seasons with not even one finish in single digits -- he got dropped by his sponsors.

The ski maker Atomic, though, saw enough to pick him up. That was step one in the comeback.

Step two was time off, and getting as healthy as possible: "It's still there," he said of his back troubles. "I have learned to deal with it a lot better. A lot of stretching. A lot of core exercises. Just, I guess, a little maturity as well."

The summer brought a six-week block on skis in Chile. This fall: more training at the U.S. team's Copper Mountain speed center.

Sullivan said he never really gave in to concern he might lose his spot on the team.

"If I was healthy and I was on the right equipment," he said, "I still had the resolve and the drive to still be back on top. It was just a matter of working out the details."

Before this weekend, Sullivan had three times over his career notched top-three tour finishes, all downhills. He won in Chamonix, France, in 2008. In Wengen, Switzerland, in 2009, he took third. And in Lake Louise, in 2007, he got second -- his first World Cup podium.

This, then, was a course he knew well.

Running all week here from starting spot No. 42, he was 25th in training on Wednesday. Then 15th in the second training run, on Thursday.

Then, when it counted, third.

Just before it was Sullivan's turn to ski Saturday, proceedings were put on hold for about 20 minutes; Italian racer Mattia Casse slid into the nets on the side of the course. He was taken to a local hospital with what was initially described as a shoulder injury.

"Marco did an unbelievable job of executing what he has been working on in his skiing, and the game plan, at the right time," Rearick said.

"I came up to Lake Louise knowing I could do something good," Sullivan said. "My goal today was top 10. And to exceed that -- it's awesome."

Ted Ligety, master of his craft

Sometimes an athlete wins, and he or she is all giddy and doesn't have much to say about beyond, wow, I did it! Which, you know, is fine. There's an eloquence of sorts in sports for breathless excitement. Then there's a soliloquy like the one Ted Ligety delivered after he won the giant slalom Tuesday at the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek, Colo., with a breathtaking second run to hold off Austria's Marcel Hirscher, by 69-hundredths of a second, with Norway's Kjetil Jansrud third.

These were the words of an artist, an Olympic gold medalist and three-time World Cup giant slalom champion, a master at his craft describing the essence of sport, speed and soulfulness. Listen in:

"It feels really unique in the sense that it never gets super-steep so you can pretty much arc the whole entire thing. Especially on that bottom pitch down there, it's just the perfect steepness for laying out several times.

"I felt my hip on the ground several times, even up on the top, and that's so cool to have your hip on the snow and not have your hands on the snow and feel like you're still in perfect control and still have that grip and feel that sensation of speed out of the turn. it's -- it's so cool.

"It's why every guy who skis GS skis GS. it's because it's so unique in that sense where you really can feel the force. You can carve full, clean turns and really get the speed out of it and feel super laid-over. There's not [any other] sport where you can be on your hip and have nothing else touching but your feet. So it's really unique in that sense."

Ligety's victory made for yet another early-season highlight for the U.S. Ski Team. In 13 World Cup races, the American team has combined for seven victories and 10 top-three finishes.

The U.S. women race the super-G Wednesday at Beaver Creek. Lindsey Vonn -- who won back to back to back races over the weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta -- has never won a World Cup race in the United States.

Ligety is now 27. He's an accomplished professional. He speaks not just to hear himself to talk but because he has something to say.

For instance, he has actively been campaigning against a rules change that FIS, the international ski federation, has announced that would change the hourglass shape of current skis; the change is due to be implemented next season in what FIS says is an attempt to make the sport safer.

Ligety and other racers say the move was pushed through without their input and say it will set back skiing by years -- that skiers will have to skid into turns instead of arcing into them.

"… A lot less dynamic," he said at a news conference Tuesday, and on this occasion Ligety was being at his diplomatic best.

Ligety, meanwhile, was -- with good reason -- called "Mr. GS" at Tuesday's post-race news event. He leads the current World Cup GS standings and at this early stage in the season stands second in the overall race behind Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal.

Obviously, Ligety is still very much in his time, yet he is keenly aware of younger rivals, among them Hirscher, who is 22, and France's Alexis Pinturault, who led Tuesday's first run and who is just 20. Pinturault would ultimately finish Tuesday in fourth.

Of Pinturault, Ligety said, "I still feel pretty young. And having somebody seven years younger than me coming close to beating me and going to beat me sometime this year for sure -- I mean he's so fast, it's just a mater of time before he starts winning races.

"That's definitely a good motivator for me -- knowing that there's someone who's seven years younger than me who probably has more raw speed than I do. That's definitely something that is going to make me push harder in the future. I'm just hoping he doesn't get that mental ability and that race speed too soon."

Hirscher actually won Sunday's giant slalom in Beaver Creek, with Ligety second. Ligety then went to the tape, watching Hirscher's runs, in which, as Ligety said, Hirscher "skied pretty crazy well at the bottom there" and "crushed me by quite a bit and a lot of other guys," and used it Tuesday against him.

"I'm glad to come down and get some redemption," Ligety said.

Which he did how?

By skiing pretty crazy well himself. He pushed himself right to the limit, particularly in that second run.

Ligety said, "I was definitely on the edge. Obviously bobbles -- everybody makes bobbles. None of them cost me time. but I was definitely pushing as hard as I could. I was definitely a lot more aggressive that run than any of the runs I had taken here so far.

"I felt like I had kind of figured out the snow a little better and was able to just trust what my skis and everything was going to do a little better. I was just pushing super-hard. if I did that run several times, I don't know if I would make it to the finish line with a high percentage."

It worked Tuesday. And as Ligety said, "Any win is a good win."

That sort of brevity, too, can be eloquent.