Birds of Prey flashback: Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin conquer 2015 worlds |

Birds of Prey flashback: Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin conquer 2015 worlds

Chris Freud, Vail Daily

Ted Ligety powers his way to giant-slalom gold during the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. (AP file photo/Alessandro Trovati)

VAIL — Yes, the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships lasted two weeks, but one can really boil them down to two days.

Of course, Tina Maze and and Anna Fenninger (now Veith) were the headliners on the women’s side. Marcel Hirscher dazzled, winning two golds (combined and the team event). Americans Lindsey Vonn (bronze, super-G), Travis Ganong (silver, downhill) and Ted Ligety (bronze, combined) all made the podium, a great improvement for the team after being blanked here in 1999.

As great as the array of stars and moments were, the 2015 world championships came down to two races — men’s giant slalom and women’s slalom — and Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin did not disappoint.

Once Ligety broke through at the Birds of Prey giant slalom in 2010, not only did he start winning, but he dominated. Ligety was as automatic as it got at Birds of Prey, almost Hermann Maier automatic.

Ted had won five of six giant-slalom starts here. Not only was he winning at Beaver Creek, but some of those races were over after the first run. In 2010 and 2011, he won by 0.82 and 0.69 seconds, substantial margins. By 2012, he crushed all comers by 1.76 seconds.

For 2013, Ligety won by 1.32 ticks, ahead of Bode Miller, who was having what he’d like to remember as Birds of Prey finale. Bode’s actual final run down Birds of Prey came in the 2015 worlds super-G, when he had a massive yard sale on Golden Eagle. In the process he tore tendons in his hamtring, an injury that finally meant retirement.

Mikaela Shiffrin enjoys the view from the top after winning slalom gold on home snow at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. (John Locher
Associated Press file photo)

As the 2015 worlds approached, Ligety’s hold on giant slalom at Birds of Prey was slipping. Ligety won the dress rehearsal for worlds with another GS win at Beaver Creek in December 2014, but he had to come from behind after the first run, eventually catching France’s Alexis Pinturault and Austia’s Marcel Hirscher.

Ted made it even more exciting at Worlds. He was fifth after the morning run, 0.24 seconds behind archrival Hirscher. The assembled throng at Red Tail bellowed when Ligety left the start house, as if it could actually prod him to ski faster.

As Ligety started passing intervals in the green, indicating that he had surged into the lead, the fans shook. When he came across the line in green numbers, meaning he had taken the lead, all exploded.

Then all held their breath as Pinturault, Germany’s Felix Neureuther, Italy’s Roberto Nani and Hirscher came down the hill. When Hirscher finished up 0.45 seconds off the pace, the party began.

“I definitely haven’t been skiing as well this year as I have in years past. Getting my butt handed to me by this guy all the time wasn’t that enjoyable,” Ligety said in the post-race press conference, indicating Hirscher sitting next to him. “It’s nice to be able to go home and hit the reset button. It’s nice to get that feeling back … a little of my old self.”

In retrospect, it was the beginning of the end for Ligety. The Park City, Utah, native won in Soelden, Austria, in October 2015 for what remains his last win. Injuries and Father Time have plagued him since.

Nonetheless, Ligety is one of the legends of the course with Hermann Maier, Aksel Lund Svindal and Hirscher. Our bet is that whenever Ligety retires, Birds of Prey, as it did with Miller and Daron Rahlves, will name a portion of the course for him. We nominate “Ligety’s Left.”

Yes, American ski-racing fans like what they see at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

The home fans didn’t have to wait long to see another American gold medal. The very next day was women’s slalom.

Of course, Mikaela Shiffrin grew up here, but the World Cup calendar continuously conspired to keep her from racing on home snow. After the traditional stops in Soelden and Levi, Finland, the women’s tour headed to Aspen or Killington, Vermont, for tech events, followed by a stop for speed in Lake Louise, Alberta.

The one exception was Thanksgiving 2013, when the women came to Beaver Creek for the test events for the world championships. At the ripe old age of 18, Shiffrin finished second in that giant slalom. While Sweden’s Jessica Lindell-Vikarby ended up winning that day, we all knew we had seen something special.

Shiffrin entered 2015 Worlds a much more mature 19, and handled the spotlight with aplomb. Having already taken eighth in GS earlier in the championships, Shiffrin got to business.

She led by 0.45 seconds over Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, and then took some time out between runs. The big-screen television at the base showed shots of Shiffrin not far from the start house. Shiffrin was lying back on her parka with her hands behind her neck while wearing sunglasses.

To those watching, Shiffrin just looked too cool for school. (What me, worry?) In reality, she was trying to take a nap, which begs the question what sort of person is calm enough to take a nap in the middle of one of the most important days of his or her life?

That added to the legend as did Shiffrin’s second run. She slammed the door on the field, crossing the finish line with no reaction.

“I put a ton of energy out there, especially on that last third of the course, making sure every turn was spot on,” Shiffrin said. “I had no energy in the finish. It’s always a little awkward. I feel like all the best racers had an epic finish celebration. Ted (Ligety) throws his ski. Lindsey (Vonn) falls on the ground. (Tina) Maze puts her finger in the air. How about if I do something epic? Then I get to the finish, and I’m like, ‘Hi. I’m kind of a dork.’ I don’t want to show that side of myself. I’m not that great at showing my emotions. Guess I have to work on that.”

The 2015 worlds slalom was the second of four straight golds in the discipline for Shiffrin at the biennial competition. She will be going for a five-peat in February in Cortina, Italy.