BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – For a while, it looked like Ted Ligety would earn his 39th world cup podium on Saturday at Beaver Creek. But the course was holding up so well that unsung skiers with later bib numbers had a legitimate chance to steal the medals.
And they did.
Hannes Reichelt of Austria and Peter Fill of Italy were tied for first place when Ligety came down.
The American electrified the home crowd by posting some of the fastest times at the top and bottom of the course, but Ligety finished 0.10 seconds behind the leaders and was perched in third place until, 10 racers later, Patrick Kueng of Switzerland found a faster line, bumped Ligety off the podium and, ultimately, claimed his first world cup victory. Then, racer No. 45, Otmar Striedinger of Austria, shot into second place behind Kueng with a blazing back-of-the-pack run to earn his first world cup podium at age 22.
In the end, Ligety finished fifth — behind Kueng, Striedinger, and the Austrian-Italian tie for third place.
Five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller placed 14th.
Andrew Weibrecht, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist in super-G, was on track to produce his best result in years despite sweeping too far right on a gate and making a speed-scrubbing correction to stay on course. Weibrecht finished 20th.
All three Americans seemed generally satisfied with their performances.
“It’s not an easy hill,” said Ligety, the 2013 world champion in super-G. “I skied the turns well. That’s my forte,” but he also confessed that his super-G results often depend on how well the course fits his skill set.
“My super-G has a big range,” Ligety said. “When it’s steep — like it is here in the important sections — I have a good chance of making up time. If it’s flat and easy, I’m one of the middle-pack guys.
“I’ve been working on my super-G and getting more comfortable with it,” he added. Ligety was already one of the best giant slalom skiers of his generation before he started to find success in the speed events.
One aspect that helped Ligety’s transformation is one that he had been vehemently opposed to: a recent change in ski dimensions mandated by the International Ski Federation.
“The GS skis became more super-G-esque as far as movement patterns,” he said, but once the man known as “Mr. GS” learned to master the new GS skis, it was logical that super-G would follow.
Saturday’s result also put Ligety into sixth place in the overall world cup standings (after six races), but the Utah native said “it’s too early to tell” whether he will meet his goal of winning the overall title this season.
“I missed some points [last weekend] in Lake Louise,” he explained. He also missed points in Friday’s downhill, finishing 42nd at Beaver Creek.
To make up the difference, Ligety said, “I need to score a ton of points in slalom… but my slalom is like fine China: it looks pretty sometimes and it can be fast, but if you drop it, it breaks easily. My GS is like an iron skillet. I can kick it around and it holds up.”
On Sunday, Ligety will try to win his second consecutive giant slalom of the season at Beaver Creek.
Miller will also race GS tomorrow, and the 36-year-old New Hampshire native will take confidence from his super-G run on Saturday where he made just one big mistake, one that he attributed to a camouflaged gate.
“People [wearing red] were standing on the right of Harrier jump against the [red] banners,” Miller said. “It’s a red gate against red background, and you just can’t see it. I wouldn’t make that mistake but 1 time out of 10, or 1 time out of 20. It sucks to make it on a day where I skied that [well] on the top.”
Miller said it was a step in the right direction, though. “There were three blind turns that are pretty nasty on the top. I hit all three of them within a foot of where I wanted to be, at full speed. For me, that’s really encouraging… taking that kind of risk with no course report, no video analysis, on a brand new hill where you don’t know what the speed’s like.”
As for Weibrecht’s 20th place, Weibrecht said, “I’m really happy with the result, even though it could have been a lot better. Coming out of the Abyss, I just took a too-hard right and I had to jam around a couple of gates just to stay on course.
“My goal today was to get in the top 30. I’m disappointed at what could have been, but hey, I’m moving on. This run was a potential podium finish; I just have to get out of my own way.”
Overall, Weibrecht said the U.S. men’s team is on its way up.
“It’s great to have Bode back [after taking a season off to heal his knee]. It’s great to have Ted skiing with the speed guys a little bit. It drives everybody,” Weibrecht said. “Our team is strong and getting stronger. Moving forward, there’s going to be some really good stuff.”
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.