Ligety wins combined gold
Raich, Miller both miss gates in night slalom
By Bob Barnett
SESTRIERE, Italy – Bode Miller still hasn’t won a medal at the 2006 Olympics, but teammate Ted Ligety took some of the pressure off the Americans when he won the men’s combined this evening.
Racing under the lights and before a large audience seated in grandstands, Austrian Benjamin Raich looked poised to win the race. He had a .52 second lead halfway through his second slalom run, when he suddenly missed a gate and skied off course.
Ligety, a 21-year-old slalom specialist from Park City, edged Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic by .53 seconds to win the gold medal. Rainer Schoenfelder salvaged some measure of pride for the Austrians by claiming the bronze.
“After the downhill it wasn’t really in my plans to be in this position,” Ligety said. “I had a mediocre first slalom run but I was still fourth (overall). The second course definitely suited me better.”
Kostilic was in tears at the finish as he hugged his sister, Janica and then walked up to the podium on his hands.
The Kostilic siblings have won multiple world championship and Olympic medals, but Ivica has also had to overcome numerous injuries, including five knee operations in four years.
Raich was the bronze medalist in the combined four years ago at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Miller won the silver medal in that race.
Miller said he isn’t too disappointed at being shut out of the medals after two events at these Olympics, but the pressure from the American media is starting to build.
Miller came charging out of the gate in the combined downhill this morning, beating Swiss Didier Defago by .32 seconds and seemingly determined to make up for his fifth place finish in Sunday’s downhill.
But he straddled a gate in the first of two runs in this evening’s combined slalom. Miller has started eight slaloms this winter but finished only two.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened,” Miller said. I don’t tend to get that disappointed. At least I don’t have to go all the way down to Torino (for a medal) tomorrow.”
Ligety’s victory seemed a long shot this morning. He finished 32 nd in the downhill portion of the combined, 3.06 seconds behind Miller. He won the first run of the slalom on a course he didn’t particularly like and then was relaxed for the second slalom run.
“I had a good feeling after the first couple of gates, then I just tried to make speed at each turn,” Ligety said.
Raich was 13 th in the morning downhill, more than 2 seconds off Miller’s pace, but was second in the first slalom run to move into first overall.
Miller and Raich weren’t the only ones to have trouble with the slalom — Defago, downhill silver medalist Michael Walchhofer and Norwegians Lasse Kjus and Aksel Lund Svindal were among the 12 competitors who failed to finish the first run. However, Miller seems to attract the most attention. The video screen at the bottom of the slalom hill repeatedly showed him straddling a gate at the end of a flush. A story in Monday’s USA Today referred to Miller’s “beer gut” and suggested that may be why he failed to win a medal in the downhill.
But Miller said tonight he was ready for the Olympics.
“I’m prepared for these races. As you can see, I came out of the downhill and I was ready to be on the podium. A few things didn’t go my way. Obviously I was in position to win by a significant margin even with poor skiing in the first run. I’m prepared to ski well in all the events I’m in. It’s just a matter of execution. You still have to execute, even if you’re absolutely prepared.”
The Canadians in the combined were speedskiers Manuel Osborne-Paradis, John Kucera and Francois Borque, and technical skier Ryan Semple.
Osborne-Paradis, the Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus, was eighth in this morning’s downhill, 1.33 seconds behind Miller, but was six seconds off the pace in the first slalom run. He elected not to start the second run.
Kucera wound up 17 th while Bourque was 21 st .
Mont Tremblant’s Semple was 35 th in the morning downhill but hooked a tip on the second gate in the first slalom run.
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