March 13, 2015

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) Last year, Ted Ligety staged an unlikely comeback to edge Marcel Hirscher for the World Cup giant slalom title. This time, the American needs a miracle.

Ligety, the Olympic and three-time world champion, trails by 188 points going into the second to last GS of the season, with a win worth 100 points.

If Ligety doesn't win Saturday's race, or if Hirscher finishes 19th or better, the Austrian will lock up the title even before the World Cup finals in Meribel, France, next week.

''It will be a very special moment,'' Hirscher said Friday. ''Last year, a lot of people - including me sometimes - thought, OK, that's it, I got it. I have to ski the way I've done in the past races and then in general, it won't be a problem.''

Reluctant to leave anything to chance, Hirscher traveled to Kranjska Gora earlier this week and trained two days to get used to the snow conditions in the Slovenian resort.

A year ago, Hirscher was in pole position to claim his second GS title after 2012. However, he finished fourth and saw his 100-point lead over Ligety halved as the American won the race - for a record sixth time in Kranjska Gora.

The scenario repeated itself a week later at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. While Ligety won again, Hirscher was bumped into fourth by 0.01 seconds by his close friend, Felix Neureuther of Germany. Ligety and Hirscher shared first in the standings, with the globe awarded to the American as he won more races.

A similar drama seems impossible this year. It would be the first time Ligety misses out on the title since a disputed rule change for GS equipment in 2012. The new skis were longer and narrower and had a wider radius, meaning it became more difficult to navigate sharp turns.

Ligety mastered the new equipment and started winning races by huge margins. His rivals only managed to catch up the following year, while Hirscher has overtaken the American this season by winning five of the six World Cup races so far - though Ligety managed to retain his world title last month in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

''It will be a really big success for me,'' said Hirscher, who can become the second skier after Norway's Kjetil Jansrud to lock up a discipline title before the finals. The Norwegian secured the super-G crystal globe last week.

''Before the material change, I won the GS globe. After it, we were so far away from Ted,'' Hirscher said. ''He showed us what was possible with these new skis. My factory, Atomic, did an awesome job the last two years. They worked day and night to get faster equipment.''

With the GS globe all but secured, the Austrian is eager to extend his 52-point lead over Jansrud in the overall standings. His target for the GS and Sunday's slalom is 100 points in total.

''It would be a really great success and a huge step forward,'' said Hirscher, who is also in the hunt for his third straight slalom title.

That battle will come down to another showdown with Neureuther, who leads by 66 points, though Germany's Fritz Dopfer, Italy's Stefano Gross and Russia's Alexander Khoroshilov are still in the running as well, at least mathematically.

Hirscher's main focus remains a record fourth straight overall title. Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell won five in a row in the early 1970s but no male skier has ever achieved the feat.

''It's a tough battle. My thinking is totally focused on the overall globe,'' said Hirscher, who defeated Jansrud's fellow Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal in the past two seasons.

''(Jansrud) is skiing really great, especially in the speed events,'' Hirscher said. ''Right now, I am in a very good position but this is not the final ranking.''

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