BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP)Tommy Ford didn’t even set an alarm Sunday morning. He never does. He’s so easygoing that oversleeping for a race doesn’t even enter his mind.
That’s the way he feels about pressure, too. He doesn’t let it get to him.
Finding himself in new territory – leading after the first run – Ford simply did what he always does and charged. Ford cruised across the finish line, glanced up at the scoreboard and immediately pumped his right glove after earning his first career World Cup win.
The American racer glided through the fog and the falling snow to finish the Birds of Prey giant slalom in a combined time of 2 minutes, 31.25 seconds Sunday. Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was second, 0.80 seconds back, while fellow Norwegian Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen took third.
”I’ve been skiing well and on this path for a long time,” Ford said. ”It’s led to this moment and more moments to come. I just don’t know what they are.”
Ford’s career path was interrupted in 2013 when he broke his femur during a free-skiing mishap. It caused him to miss the entire 2014 Olympic season.
Ever so steadily, he’s gotten back on course.
Ford found himself on unfamiliar ground – with the lead after run No. 1. He didn’t show any hint of nerves before pushing out of the start gate for his final pass. He simply gazed down at the awaiting course for a moment.
”There are all sorts of thoughts going through the mind,” Ford said. ”Some nerves coming up. Just working with them. Clearing them. Working with them. Clearing them. A continual process all the way to the start. Once things get going, it just happens.”
He flowed through the gates with the home crowd urging him to the finish line. Then, the celebration was on as he was greeted by rambunctious teammates. They were stoked for the 30-year-old from Oregon.
”Not many words, honestly, smiling and hugs,” Ford said. ”It’s been really cool to be with this group.”
It’s been quite a start to the season for Ford. He finished fourth at the season-opening GS race in Soelden, Austria, in late October. That also happened to be his best finish – until Sunday.
Ford became the first U.S. racer to capture a World Cup men’s giant slalom race on home snow since Ted Ligety won in 2014.
”Congrats to Tommy – amazing job in the second run,” said Kristoffersen, who claimed his 18th career World Cup podium in the GS. ”It’s not easy to beat the U.S. guys on home soil, on this type of snow. You see it with Leif, too.”
Nestvold-Haugen spent years in Colorado as he competed for the University of Denver ski team. He feels at home on what’s referred to as ”hero snow” because racers don’t have to worry about it being unstable underneath their skis.
”You get a lot back from the snow,” Nestvold-Haugen said.
Before his second run, the 32-year-old Nestvold-Haugen called home to say goodnight to his young kids.
”That put things in perspective – they’re sleeping while I’m racing,” Nestvold-Haugen said. ”The second run was a little bit more of a wild run. When I get nervous, I try to compensate by being more aggressive.”
Ligety, who was fourth after the first run, struggled on his final pass and was 11th. The 35-year-old Ligety is predominantly focusing on the giant slalom this season.
”It’s been nice, just doing GS really,” said Ligety, who has captured 24 World Cup giant slalom races. ”It’s a nice gear shift.”
The conditions were hardly favorable with the snow falling and fog rolling in throughout the day.
Defending Birds of Prey GS champion Stefan Luitz of Germany made a mistake in the foggy conditions and didn’t finish his first run.
He won his first World Cup race in Beaver Creek last December amid some controversy. Racing at an elevation of around 10,340 feet (3,152 meters), Luitz inhaled from an oxygen tank before his winning race. The International Ski Federation later disqualified him because its rules prohibit using supplemental oxygen even though the World Anti-Doping Agency does not.
But the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Luitz’s appeal against disqualification in March and awarded him his first World Cup win.
Luitz said he never really got the chance to celebrate his achievement. That’s why he’s eager for another.
”Not only for the victory, but there is so much around it – for my head and my skiing,” Luitz said. ”That’s why I’m trying so hard to get back on top.”
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