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. world ski news : Ligety skis to Kranjska Gora hat trick - 29 January 2010 - 20:00

American Ted Ligety continued his mastery of the Podkoren piste in Kranjska Gora winning a giant slalom for the third straight year in the Slovenian town. With Austria's Marcel Hirscher at bottom in the lead and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal waiting to defend his .01 second first run lead, Ligety put down the throttle in the afternoon run.

"I would much rather be in second place by a hundredth, than leading by a hundredth," said Ligety in the finish area after the victory "I knew I had to go hard and that he wasn't going to go easy. I had to charge especially with Hirscher and all the other guys pretty close behind. You had to take a lot of risk to still win."

His two-run combined time of 2:22.02 was good enough to earn him first World Cup win of the season, .34 seconds faster than Hirscher. Svindal, who hasn't won a giant slalom race in two seasons was less than average in his second run, dropping him to fourth overall, .31 behind his teammate, Kjetil Jansrud who nabbed third.

Interestingly, Ligety's Rossignol ski technician, Ales Kalamar is from just down the road from Kranjska Gora. Not surprisingly, the steep Slovenian piste is the American's favorite on tour.

"The hill is super technical and it has a lot of terrain changes, but it also flows really well," he said. "So if you can arc it a little bit ahead of the terrain, you can be super fast and it's easy for the other guys to make mistakes, so I think I've been lucky in that manner."

Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who picked up his first career World Cup victory in a Val d'Isere giant slalom in December, was third after the morning run .59 behind Svindal. The 20-year-old successfully skied aggressively in the second run and moved up to grab second.

"The Italians set the course and I saw during the inspection that it would be very tough to ski this course fast," said Hirscher. "I saw that Michael Gufler, the Italian, was very fast and had an awesome run. It was hard to focus on this run because every other athlete had problems. I decided to risk everything so it was great. Kranjska Gora is very special for me."

Two seasons ago, the young Austrian achieved his first-ever World Cup podium in Kranjska Gora, finishing third in a slalom.

Italy's Gufner, 30, blazed the second run, clocking 1:09.09. It was the fastest of the afternoon, .43 quicker than the nearest competitor, Jansrud. Gufner jumped from 30th after the first run to finish 12th.

Norway's Jansrud equaled his best-ever World Cup result with the third-place performance.

"I haven't been on the podium that much so it feels great," said the 24-year-old Norwegian. "Yeah, it was the same race last as last year, but not on the same hill."

Friday's giant slalom in Kranjska Gora was a rescheduled race for Adelboden which was cancelled a few weeks ago due to heavy fog. Last season, Jansrud was third in Adelboden.

"It's been a little above a year since the last podium, so that's a bit depressing," he said. "I wanted to be on the podium for awhile, so it's good to be back."

Today's race also witnessed a couple of dramatic crashes. In the first run, Croatia's Ivica Kostelic went hard through a gate, quickly turning him around. He flipped over backwards losing his skis and ended up tangled in the safety netting. However, the veteran racer walked away from the incident and will start tomorrow.

Switzerland's Didier Cuche wasn't as lucky. Charging hard near the bottom of his second run, he seemingly lost his balance at the second to last gate. After barreling through it, he got turned around and hit the final gate hard also. He ensued to slide across the finish line on his stomach.

Cuche broke his right thumb and is headed to Zurich for surgery tomorrow. Any possible consequences are yet to be determined.

Ligety earned 100 points for his effort today, moving him to the top of the giant slalom standings. The American has 292 points and leads Italy's Max Blardone and Austria's Benjamin Raich, who share second place, by 33 points heading into another giant slalom here tomorrow.

"There's still a couple of races left and a lot can happen," said Ligety. "There was a big switch today, but it's still anybody's race. It's nice to have a little bit of a buffer, but with Benni and Blardone it's not a done deal for sure."

And when questioned regarding American skiers frequently peaking and performing well at the Olympics in years past, Ligety responded, "There's definitely a lot more focus on the Olympics in America than the World Cup. Maybe that added pressure and attention on it makes us bring up our game a lot."

Ligety will attempt to continue his Slovenian hot street as World Cup racing continues tomorrow with a second giant slalom. Start of the first run is scheduled for 9:45am local time.

By Brian Pinelli
Friday 29 January 2010

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