Raich wins giant slalom title at Birds of Prey; Ligety second | AspenTimes.com

Raich wins giant slalom title at Birds of Prey; Ligety second

Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

Austria's Benjamin Raich races down the course during the first run of the men's World Cup giant slalom skiing competition at Beaver Creek, Colo. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ” Ted Ligety churned down the Birds of Prey course on his final run Sunday without a stumble or slip. The American slid to a stop and glanced at the leaderboard, expecting to see his name flash at the top.

It didn’t.

Instead, Benjamin Raich of Austria won the World Cup giant slalom, edging Ligety by 0.01 seconds. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished third and took the lead in the World Cup standings.

Ligety, the reigning giant slalom champion, led after a flawless morning run and was jolted to learn he hadn’t won.

“It felt like I had a pretty clean run, no major bobbles,” he said. “I had a pretty good buffer on the rest of field after the first run, so I expected to be in first, not second. That was close ” still good nevertheless.”

Raich won in a combined time of 2 minutes, 24.61 seconds, quickly making up the 1.05-second difference on Ligety by skiing aggressively and staying tight on the turns.

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“I was pushing really hard,” said Raich, who finished eighth in the giant slalom at this event last year. “You have to do that if you want to win races.”

Even Raich was surprised to see that he was first.

“I was sure that (Ligety) had beaten me because he made a really clean last part,” Raich said. “I was sure that he was in front of me. But I was first and that was good for me.”

Ligety said he wasn’t holding anything back, even after countryman Bode Miller and Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht went off the course just before his final run.

Playing it safe isn’t Ligety’s way.

“I know you can’t hold back on the second run, even if you’re winning,” Ligety said after his second straight podium finish in the discipline, having come in third this year in Soelden, Austria. “I wasn’t holding back. I thought I was skiing well.”

Svindal came to Beaver Creek fearing the course. He was returning to the scene where he broke his nose and cheekbone and lacerated his buttock in a crash during training last season.

He left with much better memories, winning the downhill and super-G and taking third in the giant slalom.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Svindal said.

Miller had a fast final run going before his left ski slid out and he skidded off the course. It was a wipeout-filled weekend for the skier from Franconia, N.H., who also crashed in the downhill and needed some fancy maneuvering to avoid a spill in the super G, where he wound up 14th.

But Svindal is not about to count out Miller in his defense of his overall World Cup crown.

“He does things on skis that no one else in the world does,” Svindal said. “Maybe his odds are getting better and better. It would be worth (it) to put some money on him.”

Hermann Maier, who celebrated his 36th birthday Sunday, missed a gate and failed to finish his first run. Still, it was a solid weekend for the Austrian star, who finished second in the super G and 12th in the downhill.

Ligety produced the only top-three finish for the U.S. at Birds of Prey. Still, U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick wasn’t displeased, pointing to the squad placing six skiers in the top 30 during the super-G Saturday as a testament to the team’s depth.

“We’re skiing fast,” Rearick said.

Ligety certainly thought he was fast enough to win Sunday.

“I felt like I skied pretty well the whole way down,” he said. “It’s tough to say where I lost some of the time. That happens.”

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