BEAVER CREEK - Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves and Erik Schlopy have accounted for all of the more than 60 World Cup medals won by the U.S. ski team since their top-level racing careers began.
With each considering retirement either for reasons of age (Rahlves is 32; Schlopy 33) or disillusionment (Miller, 28), the obvious question is who’s next? Ted Ligety, 21, might have answered that when he won his first World Cup medal Sunday, a bronze in slalom, making good on the team’s promise that there is, perhaps, life after Bode. Italy’s Giorgio Rocca, second here last year, won the race with a two-run time of 1 minute, 51.72 seconds, followed by France’s Stephane Tissot in 1:52.58 and Ligety in 1:52.60. Park City, Utah’s Ligety, in his third year on the team, roared to the podium from 11th place after his first run. His medal gave fans unexpected reason to cheer after Miller, winner of a dramatic giant slalom Saturday, fell in his first run and finished but did not qualify for a second run. Schlopy did not start after breaking his hand during Saturday’s race. Ligety’s medal, which he won on the final day of the four-day World Cup event, was the fifth won by an American. Rahlves and Miller were 1-2 in Friday’s downhill, then swapped spots Saturday. “I always aim pretty high, and I’m not entirely surprised by today,” said Ligety, whose previous-best World Cup finish was eighth in giant slalom in October at Soelden, Austria. Look beyond the medals and you see emerging talent, ski team president Bill Marolt said. Besides Ligety, who beats Miller in slalom practice, three skiers turned in four top-25 finishes in Beaver Creek — Tom Rothrock, Steven Nyman and Dane Spencer. “We have a good foundation,” ski team director Jesse Hunt said. The U.S. alpine team won just two Olympic medals in 2002, both silvers by Miller. “Our goal is overall to be the best in the world by winning more medals in skiing and snowboarding,” Marolt said. Erratic snow conditions — sometimes icy, sometimes grippy — made for frequent falls in the season’s first World Cup slalom Sunday. Twenty-eight of the 74 racers who started fell or skidded off course in the first run, including Miller, last season’s World Cup overall champion. “When I finished I was first and second, so it’s not too bad,” Miller said of his week. After his second run, Ligety stood in second place with 11 racers remaining (a Swiss skier had been disqualified), each faster than him in the first run. As each finished, Ligety said, “I kept looking up and kept seeing my name in second place” behind Tissot. He was chatting casually in the finish area when an official beckoned. He needed to devote his full attention to the scoreboard. Five to go, and it was suddenly snowing hard. Kalle Palander, the Finnish veteran, went down. Then Sweden’s Johan Brolenius. Austria’s Mario Matt was too slow. Rocca’s gutsy run in the dwindling visibility dropped Ligety to third. The last skier, Austrian star Benjamin Raich, certainly would push him off the podium. Ligety could live with fourth. About eight gates from the finish, Raich, winner of 16 World Cup races before this season, missed one. Ligety pumped his skis overhead, and the next generation, perhaps, was born. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or firstname.lastname@example.org