Ted Ligety of U.S. wins World Cup giant slalom title
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) Ted Ligety of the United States won his fifth giant slalom of the season Saturday to clinch the World Cup discipline title with a race to spare.
It's his fourth GS title after winning in 2008 and 2010-11. He also successfully defended his GS title at the world championships last month.
"To win here again is a super cool feeling," said Ligety, who has won in Kranjska Gora five times and been on the podium every year since 2008. "I am really proud of that."
Ligety held his first-run lead to win in 2 minutes, 35.43 seconds for his 16th career victory, all in GS.
He established an insurmountable 125-point lead over Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who was 0.45 behind in second.
"It's a big weight off my shoulders," Ligety said. "I had an awesome, awesome season but Hirscher was there all the time. Even if I beat him by three seconds, he was still in second place. That makes it tough going for the title. It becomes kind of a head game when he is so close all the time. So I am pretty psyched to have it locked up now."
Ligety has finished on the podium in all seven GS races this season and became the first man to achieve that feat since Michael von Gruenigen of Switzerland in 1995-96.
Alexis Pinturault of France was third, 0.77 behind, and Felix Neureuther of Germany was fourth, 0.81 off Ligety's time. Ligety led Hirscher by 0.60 after the opening run, in which the Austrian placed fourth.
In the overall standings, Hirscher extended his lead to 69 points over Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished sixth.
Rain made for difficult conditions during the final run on a course that was soft by days of mild temperatures.
"Racing in the rain is not my favorite thing," Ligety said. "I grew up in Park City, Utah, where it's usually warm and sunny. These are totally different conditions."
"The snow is really soft," Ligety said. "It's hard to keep your edge in the snow well. It didn't feel good at all. This is a very difficult course set, especially for how the snow is running. It was tough to have a good feeling."
The course for the first run was set by Austrian slalom coach Michael Pircher. He designed numerous sharp turns, an unusual feature for a GS and one that didn't benefit Hirscher.
"I don't know why it didn't go better," said Hirscher, who beat Ligety for the GS title last season. "My feeling was OK, but obviously it wasn't good. It's hard to tell, it's a mystery to me."
The rule change for giant slalom skis seems to have helped Ligety, who along with other racers weren't happy when the governing body announced in 2011 a switch to wider radius and longer skis to help reduce the number of injuries.
The new skis make it harder to make direction changes. But he's defended the world championship title and won five of seven World Cup races with them.
"It takes a little bit different technique," Ligety said. "A lot of guys are trying to ski like they did in the past but that makes them much slower in many conditions. I can ski pretty similar to the way I did before as my technique matches up better with these skis."
He won the season-opener by a massive 2.75-second margin. Two of his other wins - in Beaver Creek, Colo., and Alta Badia, Italy - were also by nearly two seconds, while at the worlds in Schladming, Austria, the best of the rest came 0.81 behind.
A giant slalom run on the new equipment is more tiring for a racer.
"It definitely takes a new level of fitness," Ligety said. "The skis take so much more energy to get the speed out of the turn. The little mistakes that would cost you a couple of tenths before, cost you half a second to a second now.
"So that all adds up to these huge margins. The way it currently is, these mistakes and the intensity level create a much bigger gap than before."
A men's World Cup slalom on the same course is scheduled for Sunday. The last GS of the season is next Saturday at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.