By Patrick Lang
SOELDEN, Austria, Oct 28 (Reuters) – World champion Ted Ligety mastered difficult weather conditions and new skis to win the opening giant slalom of the alpine skiing World Cup season for the second time in succession in Soelden on Sunday.
The American outclassed his rivals to win in a combined time of two minutes and 36.02 seconds despite skiing in poor visibility as snow kept falling for the whole of the afternoon leg on the Austrian glacier.
“I was watching the guys go down and given the conditions I think I did very well,” said Ligety after securing a 12th World Cup giant slalom victory.
Second-placed Italian Manfred Moelgg finished 2.75 seconds adrift while overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria was third, 3.12 off the pace.
It was the widest margin of victory in giant slalom since 1979 and the days of Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who won by a record 4.06 seconds in a race in Jasna, Slovakia.
Ligety had to be content with second fastest in the morning run behind Frenchman Thomas Fanara, who took advantage of a sunny spell to eventually take fourth spot, 3.23 behind the American.
“The morning run was a little bit disappointing and gave me extra fire for the second run I guess,” said Ligety.
Hirscher, who ruined his chances with an appalling first leg, readily conceded defeat.
“The conditions were really difficult for all of us but Ted once again did a great job. He is nearly out of reach when he is fully achieving his potential,” he said.
For Moelgg, a former slalom World Cup winner, experience paid off as it was only his third giant slalom podium, his first since 2008.
Ligety’s victory was all the more spectacular as it was achieved with the new, longer and stiffer skis imposed by the International Ski Federation (FIS) for safety reasons.
The American had been one of the fiercest critics of the decision to introduce the new equipment.
“My skis were running really well today, we have been working hard on this and this is good for the confidence of course. Now we have to check how the new skis will behave in other conditions,” he said.
“My goal this winter is to be as consistent as possible in each race and to improve my level in slalom too,” added Ligety, who has made the defense of his world crown in Schladming in February a priority.