Ted Ligety has won the year’s first World Cup race, a tough and tricky giant slalom in Soelden, Austria; and perhaps a sign of things to come during this Olympic season.
Bode Miller, returning to the starting gate after knee surgery and nearly two years away from the circuit, was upset with his 19th place, more than three seconds off Ligety’s pace.
But the 36-year old shouldn’t be harsh on himself. He still finished as the second highest American. In addition, it’s hard to come back after such a long layoff without being affected by the extreme tension and adrenaline of a World Cup, especially the opener. The amount of money involved is phenomenal. Like snowboarding, skiing is a sport done by millions of ordinary people who purchase the skis, boots, poles and helmets they see used by top racers; they buy the brand names patched onto jackets and race suits. They visit the resorts that hold the widely televised World Cups. Ski racing is literally serious business.
Ligety, 29, has won the Soelden GS opener over the two previous seasons. He won Olympic gold in Turin in 2006 in the combined, a two-race event combining the disciplines of slalom and downhill. Miller won gold in the combined in the 2010 Vancouver Games, as well as a silver medal in super-G and a bronze medal in the downhill. He also won two Olympic silver medals in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, one in the combined, another in giant slalom. Miller has also won at Soelden, in 2003 and 2004.
Given Ted Ligety’s champion status in the same race disciplines, this World Cup season leading up to the Sochi Olympics will be fierce and fascinating. If both racers stay healthy, the competition between them will build in the headlines and the eyes of the world until it becomes the dominant story of the Sochi Games.
You can bet money on it.