BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Austrian slalom maestro Marcel Hirscher had the fastest opening leg of the men’s giant slalom at the alpine ski world championships on Friday, while defending champion Ted Ligety was close behind in fifth.
Hirscher, the second ski racer out on the plunging Birds of Prey course, produced a storming run down the bottom half in dazzling morning sunshine to post a time of one minute, 15.18 seconds, according to unofficial results.
That left him a wafer-thin 0.18 seconds in front of Italian Roberto Nani and 0.23 seconds clear of Germany’s Felix Neureuther and Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, the bronze medallist at last year’s Sochi Olympics.
Hirscher, the three-times overall World Cup champion who has won four of five giant slaloms this season and finished third in the other, is bidding for his third gold medal at these world championships.
The 25-year-old Austrian won the super combined on Sunday and led the mighty Austrians to victory in the 16-nation team event held at nearby Vail on Tuesday.
American Ligety, world and Olympic champion in the discipline who is known as ‘Mr. GS’ for his domination of the event, clocked the fifth best time after struggling on the lower portion of the layout.
“I skied really well on the top and then made a couple of big mistakes, especially the one on the flats that cost me tons and tons of time,” said the 30-year-old, who finished 0.24 seconds behind Hirscher.
“Almost lucky that I just stayed in, let alone the mistakes. I’m just going to have to clean up some mistakes and ski hard,” said Ligety, referring to the afternoon run.
Editing by Gene Cherry