BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – It would have been nearly impossible to script a more dramatic conclusion to the world cup giant slalom race at Beaver Creek on Sunday.
Ted Ligety was looking for his 19th World Cup win. Bode Miller was looking for his 34th.
Ligety was the 2011 and 2013 world champion in giant slalom. Miller was the 2003 world champion in the discipline.
The U.S. hadn’t put two men on a giant slalom podium since 2005, when Miller and Daron Rahlves went 1-2 here, respectively.
Yet after one run, there they were: USA 1-2, with Ligety leading as expected, by a huge 1.1-second margin over Miller. Miller had a slim 0.16-second lead over the dangerous Austrian, Marcel Hirscher, who had won the overall world cup title for the past two years.
All the Americans had to do was duplicate their efforts in the second run to send the home crowd into a ballistic frenzy.
As the clouds rose and the temperature plummeted, Miller (the second-to-last racer in the second run) flew down the course, steadily increasing his gap over Hirscher who had just posted a combined two-run time of 2:37.59. The biggest question was whether Miller, who was risking everything, would finish on his feet. And when he finally did, his wife Morgan leaped in the finish area and high-fived Miller’s trainer of the past six months, Gavin MacMillan, whose clients also include two-time Super Bowl winner Troy Polamalu and boxer Manny Pacquiao.
As the final racer on the second run, Ligety was the only one who could beat Miller. And while Miller said, “Ted is one of the most clutch performers you’ve ever seen,” Miller’s bold second run was designed to at least “give him something to look at.”
But Ligety was too smooth.
In the end, the 29-year-old from Utah captured his second GS victory of the season in a total time of 2:35.77, a gaping 1.32 seconds ahead of Miller. Hirscher took third.
“I trusted my skiing,” Ligety said, “and that brought me though.”
But the bigger story was Miller’s resurgence. Miller’s second-place finish marked his first GS podium since 2007.
Several racers, including Hirscher, were not shocked by the 36-year-old’s performance, but Ligety was an exception.
“I’m a little bit surprised, actually,” Ligety said. “But it’s cool to have another American guy pushing me.”
That seemed to be Miller’s plan.
“As you know, confidence has never been my issue,” Miller said after his first run, but fitness was. And Miller’s fast time was a testament to his revamped regimen which entailed sitting out last season to heal a long-injured knee, losing 20 pounds, and training with MacMillan.
Between runs, Miller even said he thought he could beat Ligety, the four-time world cup GS globe winner.
“Nobody’s testing him right now because everyone’s trying to do what he does,” Miller explained. “I don’t. I do something totally different…If I ski perfectly, I think my max speed is greater than his, but it’s a lot harder for me to ski without making mistakes.”
In the end, neither American skied perfectly, but U.S. fans found the 1-2 finish to be the perfect ending.
Or perhaps it was just the beginning.
The next men’s world cup race is a giant slalom in Val D’Isere, France, on Dec. 14.
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.