Ted Ligety expects more competitive World Cup ski opener
American hopes to contend for overall title in 2013-14
Ted Ligety will be the overwhelming favourite when the Olympic ski season opens on Sunday with a World Cup giant slalom on Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria.
The American has won this race for the past two years and finished on the podium for the past five.
But Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway are again the favourites for the overall title. Hirscher took the coveted crown the past two seasons and Svindal won it in 2007 and 2009.
"I'm ready," Svindal said. "Last year I made the overall exciting and I want to be a part of that excitement again. If it's Ted or whoever I want to make it hard for them, too. I for sure want to win it."
Ligety broke the 1,000-point barrier for the first time last season but he still finished third overall behind Hirscher and Svindal. He also won three gold medals at last season's world championships, a feat no man had accomplished since French great Jean-Claude Killy won four 45 years earlier.
Another overall contender could be Alexis Pinturault, the Frenchman who was sixth overall last season with three victories in three different disciplines: Slalom, super-combined and giant slalom.
The only racers to win in GS last season besides Ligety were Hirscher in Val d'Isere, France, and Pinturault in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Canadian quartet at Soelden
With respect to Sunday's opener, Canada's entries will include Toronto natives Phil Brown and David Donaldson, Erik Read of Calgary, and Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que.
Brown in September came out on top in a Portillo, Chile giant slalom training race that included skiers from other nations.
Donaldson, 27, will be making his World Cup debut.
After Soelden, the World Cup goes to Levi, Finland, for slaloms on Nov. 16-17, followed by the first downhill and super-G races, in Lake Louise, Alta., beginning Nov. 30.
Canadians who will gear up at that point include veteran Manuel-Osborne Paradis of Vancouver, and Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C.
Osborne-Paradis, with three career World Cup victories and nine podium finishes, has enjoyed an encouraging off-season of training after being off the circuit from January 2011 to November 2012 due to torn knee ligaments and a broken fibula.
Thomsen, meanwhile, won silver in downhill in early 2012 on a test run at Sochi, where the Olympics will be held from Feb. 7-23.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., accounted for Canada's only two podium finishes on the men's circuit, both in downhill. Guay is recovering from off-season knee surgery, with the goal of getting back on skis at the beginning of November. Fellow speed racers Jan Hudec, Robbie Dixon and John Kucera are also on the mend and hoping to get in as many World Cup races as possible.
A year ago, Ligety didn't just win at Soelden he dominated with a massive victory margin of 2.75 seconds. Taking advantage of extensive preparation on newly shaped skis introduced last season, he went on to win six of eight giant slaloms on the circuit.
"I hope to come close to that," Ligety said on Thursday. "But people have figured out the skis by now and I can't really expect to win GS by those kind of margins."
Bode Miller, who's won career Olympic medals, is back after taking a season off to let his surgically repaired left knee fully heal.
"My knee is good. It's a little puffy but it's been that way for a long time," Miller said. "Overall it feels better than it has since '01."
Miller won at Soelden in 2003 and 2004 and has eight consecutive top-10 finishes.
- With files from CBCSports.ca