Marcel Hirscher wins slalom race

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- Skiing so smoothly and so effortlessly, Ted Ligety was sailing toward another win at Birds of Prey.

The finish line was in sight, the fans were wildly cheering and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" was blaring over the loud speakers.

Just then, Ligety hit a tiny bump, causing him to take a turn too soft and lose a little bit of speed.

And just like that, the race was over.

A tiny bobble by Ligety was just enough to open the door for Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who ran a smooth and steady run before Ligety to win a World Cup giant slalom on Sunday.

"I'm not disappointed," insisted Ligety, who led by 0.21 seconds after a virtually flawless first run. "But I'd be much happier if I had won."

Hirscher finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 38.45 seconds, holding off Ligety, the defending champion in the event, by a slim 0.16 seconds. Fritz Dopfer of Germany was third for the first podium finish of his career.

Hirscher was elated and somewhat stunned, only because Ligety has been skiing so well of late. Ligety, a three-time overall giant slalom winner, captured the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, in late October.

"It's great because to be Mr. GS is for me very important because in Austria, Ted is unbreakable," said Hirscher, who won his fourth World Cup race. "It's a pretty big success for me to beat him today. But we'll see. I think Teddy will be back."

And with a little revenge on his mind, especially after losing on the closest thing the Americans have to a home hill.

The skiers will return to the Birds of Prey hill Tuesday for another giant slalom, the first of three events -- including a women's super-G race on Wednesday -- moved to this location because of a lack of snow in Val d'Isere, France.

An advantage for Ligety?

"We all have a little more information on how the hill is running," Ligety said. "Everyone is going to be making a little adjustment."

Hirscher had this grippy and aggressive snow figured out, partly because he came over two weeks early and competed in a few NorAm races. Hirscher even won a GS event in Aspen on that circuit, which is skiing's equivalent to the minor leagues.

He was that dialed in entering the race Sunday.

"I'm always impressed by Marcel. He's one of my favorite guys to watch," Ligety said. "He always looks like he's on the limits and he's getting a lot of angles."

Bode Miller had a ragged first run and didn't make the top 30. His go-for-broke approach caused him to make a huge mistake early, costing him valuable time. Even more, he tweaked his back in that section, which threw him off the rest of the way.

"A little tweak," Miller said. "It was enough that my leg felt really weak for a while. I kept chattering on that left foot, which didn't help. I didn't need that added on to everything else. Just a misjudgment."

Miller hasn't been training much for the giant slalom, electing to focus on the speed events. It paid off with a downhill win on Friday but hurt him Sunday.

On those rare occasions when Miller has squeezed in some GS runs, it's been on icy conditions. So his setup was off for this type of course, since the snow was way more aggressive.

His day done early, Miller said he planned to head over to nearby Vail and take a few runs in order to get used to this type of snow conditions to prepare for Tuesday.

Ligety looked effortless in his opening run, kicking up little snow in his wake as he carved through the course. His easygoing form is why he's one of the elite GS skiers in the world.

It's an enviable form.

"His style is such that it doesn't demand a lot of risk. He gets so much done above the gate, his turns have a nice flow to them," Miller said. "He fixes a lot of those mistakes before they happen. It's a real good way to ski."

Lately, Ligety has found himself in the middle of a spat with the International Ski Federation over changes to the GS skis set to go into effect next season.

Ligety is upset over the fact the FIS is altering the hourglass shape of the skis.

Already so in tune with his Head equipment, it could take away some of Ligety's built-in advantage. He's been lashing out at skiing's governing body, even saying the changes will ruin his discipline.

"We still have to fight against it. We still have to take a stand and fight for what I think is going to be really detrimental for the sport," Ligety said. "If it goes through, it really hurts the future of the sport."

He took up another cause Sunday, wearing a black "censored" sticker on his goggles strap as a protest over a rule limiting the size of logos on equipment.

"I feel if you're one of the leading guys, you should stand up for what you believe in," Ligety said.

So dominant has Ligety been, his competitors are even studying video of him for tips. Dopfer is taking that approach in order to help close the gap.

On Sunday, Dopfer was in awe of just being on the podium, especially when it looked as if he might be bumped down to fourth. Benny Raich of Austria was skiing so well before making a late mistake and veering off the course.

"This was a big surprise," Dopfer said at a news conference. "(Ted) is like a role model for me in GS. It's just amazing to watch him and be on the podium together with him. It's just crazy."

Just then, Ligety leaned over a table and responded, "Thanks, dude."