Historic year for United States – and others - at 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey
By Cheryl Lindstrom
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Tommy FORD (USA) took the first USA win since 2014 at the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup Giant Slalom Dec. 8. Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom.[/caption]
Tommy Ford brought the American winning spirit back to Beaver Creek when he recorded his first-ever World Cup victory in Sunday’s Giant Slalom, the concluding event of the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup.
For the first time in his career, Ford, 30, won the first run and held a .20 lead going into the decisive second run. Starting last, Ford looked focused and ready, and continued to build his lead despite conditions that varied from clear to cloudy and foggy with off and on new snow. Two Norwegians — Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nesvold-Haugen — finished second and third at .80 and 1.23 behind Ford respectively.
Ted Ligety, 35, who has won six times on this course, and was the most recent American to triumph at Beaver Creek (2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships preceded by the 2014 Birds of Prey) was fourth after the first run and slipped to 11th for the day.
“I’ve just been sticking to what I know,” said Ford, who finished fourth at Sölden, Austria, earlier in the season, after his win. “And I’ve been building into this the last couple of weeks. I had a bad injury a few years ago, and I’ve come back to get some top-fives last year, but this is different.”
Ford’s parents Mark (a former NCAA downhill champion) and Sue were on hand for the emotional win, as were other friends and family.
It was the first win for an American at any venue since early in 2017.
Friday might have provided a glimpse of the next star of the World Cup when Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt pulled off a wild recovery midway down the Birds of Prey Super-G course to achieve his first ever victory at this level. Just 22 years old, Odermatt had already achieved notoriety within ski racing circles when he won five gold medals at the 2019 Junior World Championships. But World Cup is different and decidedly more demanding. Wearing bib number 2, Odermatt appeared on the edge of disaster when he fought his way through a sequence of turns in the Russi’s Ride section of the course that included a momentary “pizza” with his skis as he struggled to recover his balance and line. The wild ride yielded his first win after 40 starts on the World Cup circuit, and only his third podium appearance, with a time of 1:10.90.
Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde — predicted to follow in the enormous footsteps of Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) — was .10 seconds back in second and Austria’s Mattias Mayer rounded out the podium in third, .14 off Odermatt’s time. The set was technical, favoring the racers who excel in giant slalom, as opposed to the gliders who prefer a more open course. More than just a good day for Odermatt, it was a sigh of relief for Switzerland, which had gone without a men’s Super-G win since the end of the 2015-16 season when Beat Feuz won on home snow in St. Moritz at the World Cup Finals.
Travis Ganong was the highest-ranked American, finishing in sixth. Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished tied for 18th, Steven Nyman was 24th, and Ted Ligety finished 28th from bib 64, after a couple of mistakes robbed him of what looked to be a top-five finish.
Speaking of Feuz, the fortunes of the Swiss in downhill in general, and Beaver Creek in particular have favored the veteran skier, who struggled with injuries for two years before coming back to win the last two consecutive downhill globes in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He became only the third racer to score back-to-back downhill wins at Beaver Creek when he took the 2019 edition with a winning time of 1:12.98.
As with his 2018 victory, Feuz won from the lower start position, a change made necessary by high winds that developed overnight. Feuz joins legends Hermann Maier (1999 and 2000) and Aksel Lund Svindal (2015 and 2017; no race was held in 2016). France’s Johan Clarey, a 38-year-old fixture of World Cup racing, tied with Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria for second place at .41 back of Feuz.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who won the only training race earlier in the week, produced a strong run to finish sixth as the leading American. The balance of the U.S. team to score points included Steve Nyman, who tied with Carlo Janka at 17th, and Jared Goldberg in 22nd. The balance of the squad — Travis Ganong, Bryce Bennett, Sam Morse, Kyle Negomir, Wiley Maple and Tom Biesemeyer — finished outside the points.