Ligety becomes first Double Gold Medallist in Schladming

If ever the World Championships needed a great day of racing, this was the day. Ted Ligety produced the run of his life in the Downhill and then matched it with a superb slalom run that put the pressure on the remaining racers. Romed Baumann took the fastest time in the Downhill, just ahead of the Downhill World Champion, Aksel Lund Svindal. Not happy at having been left out of the Downhill Team, Baumann knew that if he was to do something at these Championships, then it would have to be the Super Combined, he admitted after the race. In the end he came third, winning the Austrian Men’s team their first medal of the Championships. Silver was won by Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.

With the race starting from the top of the Downhill, this was a race that can only be described in how Maria Hoefl-Riesch described the girls course the day before: You had to have Big Balls! Over two minutes long on the downhill and exceptionally hard and icy. From the town of Schladming, you could see the slope shining back at you. Edges had to be razer sharp and even the slightest hint of inside ski and the racer would be off. This was a serious Championship slope!

Baumann grabbed the early advantage in the race from a start of 16. Svindal was just on his heals and could well have been ahead of him had he not made a small mistake on the last few turns. But with the slope hard, icy and bumpy, this was a brutal slope. The downhillers packed the top five placings and the smart money before the race was saying the odds were favouring the downhillers due to the course and there only being one run of slalom. Innerhofer, Theaux and Paris made up places three to five but then just 0.72 behind the leader was Ted Ligety.

This was an awesome performance by the Giant Slalom World Champion. Ligety said after his run that “I’m in a good position. I’d like to have more time on Ivica and Benni, but I feel like I’m in a place where I can easily take those downhill guys if I have a good run. It’s going to be those slalom guys who are going to challenge.”

Six hours after the Downhill section started, the racers were back on the ice and looking to get the better of the slalom hill. For some it looked like bambi on ice as they tried to negotiate the steep and the ice combined. Alexis Pinturault had been expected to challenge but a disappointing mistake in the downhill plus another one in the slalom had not given him enough of a cushion against the faster racers. When Finland’s Andreas Romar took the lead, not many expected it to last. Romar is a speed specialist but had shown a nice turn of speed on the slalom boards and was in the finish in the lead. Next up was the man many expected to be crowned World Champion – Benni Raich.

Raich was looking good, almost as good as his imperious best from a few years ago but he could not escape the clutches of the split times that Romar had set. Then his old enemy struck out and he straddled. Baumann, waiting at the start, heard the crowd go quiet and thought ‘OK if we are to win a medal, I will have to do it.’ While the Finnish coaches at the start were happy, the Austrians were getting nervous. Raich was the big hope and now he was out.

Kostelic was in tenth place after the downhill. The Downhill had gone well: “We managed to get all the energy possible out of the skis for the downhill,” explained Kostelic after the race. “If it had not been for the downhill, I would not have been here,” he explained later. The talented Croatian felt that his slalom had let him down for once: “I was turning below the gate all the time,” he admitted. In the finish he was in the lead and Romar dropped to second. Still nine to go though.

Marsgalia crashed out, Janka disappointed, Mayer failed to trouble the times ahead and dropped out of contention and then came Ligety.

Ligety is on fire at the moment. There was a moment just before he came over the crest into the pitch that leads down the steep when he took a verticale with such precision he had no room for error. This was perfection skiing. You had to admire the skill and trust he had in his technique. With the race using the same slope that had glistened in the morning from the town, this was not for the feint hearted. Ligety took it all and made it look easy. At each split he was ahead a little bit more from Kostelic. At the line it was a huge 1.15 seconds. Ligety likes big margins and with five renown downhillers to come, this was almost it.

Dominik Paris has the silver from the downhill in his pocket but would have loved another medal; it was not to be, he would drop to ninth at the end of the race; Theaux and Innerhofer both went awol and out and when Svindal relinquished his Championship straddling half way down the steep, no one apart from maybe the President of the Austrian Ski Federation, Prof. Schroecksnadel, believed anything but a L:igety win would happen. 26,000 Austrian fans still wanted a medal but would it be silver or bronze?

Baumann used to be a slalom specialist but has since moved on to the speed races. Left out of the Downhill team, this was his turn he felt to achieve something. While he has goals of winning a downhill, he already has won the Super Combined World Cup. Baumann though is not in the same class as Ligety when it comes to slalom and with Kostelic and Romar sitting in the medal places, Baumann set off. It was a solid run and safe and by the time he crossed the line at the finish the number three came up: Heartbreak for the Finns, joy for Baumann and the Austrian Men’s team were on the board with a medal: “After two races without a medal, the pressure was getting a little intense,” explained Baumann later.

Ligety now has the opportunity to be the first man since 1968 to win three Gold Medals in the same Championships. He already has three World Titles from three different disciplines. Ligety felt that “I never wanted to be a specialist, this is pretty surreal.”

Next up is the team race…