Norwegian defends title with GS win
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
SOELDEN, Austria ” Aksel Lund Svindal’s victory in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom on Sunday showed it’s going to be tough to take the overall and discipline titles away from the powerfully built Norwegian.
Back in sixth place with a 1.17-second deficit after the first leg, Svindal delivered the fastest final run and won with a combined time of 2 minutes, 17.87 seconds.
Olympic combined champion Ted Ligety was fastest in the opening leg. But in the second run, his timing was slightly off which killed some of his momentum in the lower, flatter section. He finished second, 0.32 seconds behind Svindal.
“As good as it is to stand on the podium and get your prize, it doesn’t compare to the feeling you get when you cross the finish line and know you put down a good run,” Svindal said.
Svindal won the men’s overall title last season by beating defending champion Benjamin Raich by 13 points at the World Cup finals. Though he’s a favorite again this year, Svindal warned it was too early to get confident.
“It’s like scoring a goal in soccer in five minutes. It’s nowhere close to winning the game,” Svindal said. “Since I won it last year I know what it takes to win the overall. … My goal isn’t to win it again, but to fight for it again.”
It was the first time Ligety had ever led after the opening leg of a World Cup race, meaning it was also the first time he kicked out last from the ski hut on the final run.
“To be the last guy in the start hut in the second run was new to me, and I had to control my nerves,” Ligety said. “Now I know what it’s like. I’ll take more risk next time.”
Kalle Palander of Finland placed third, 0.39 seconds back, and Raich was fourth in 2:18.53.
“This reignited the fire in my belly,” said Palander, whose last podium dates back to December, a GS at Hinterstoder, Austria.
In his first race independent of the U.S. ski team, Bode Miller posted the second-fastest final run to vault from 17th position into fifth with a combined time of 2:18.93. Miller’s time in the second leg was all the more impressive considering a major mistake he made after coming over the breakover, when he made two wide turns.
“I was struggling to get a feel for the snow first run. We warmed up on completely different snow,” said Miller, who was recovering from a back injury. “I’m pretty satisfied with my race today. Second run, I was able to recover from my mistake. There were two sections I was particularly happy with, where I felt I had good rhythm.”
Hermann Maier, who left longtime supplier Atomic to join Miller on Head skis in the offseason, finished in 20th place. Maier won the last giant slalom on this course in 2005. Last year’s season-opening races in Soelden were canceled because of heavy rain.
U.S. veterans Erik Schlopy and Dane Spencer failed to finish among the top 30 to qualify for the second run. Schlopy is coming back after damaging knee cartilage last midseason, while Spencer is returning from a life-threatening crash in a lower-tier NorAm downhill race in 2006 when he ripped apart his pelvis and snapped his neck.
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