BEAVER CREEK, CO – Tommy Ford cruised across the finish line, glanced up at the scoreboard and immediately pumped his right glove.
It was simply the start of the celebration as Ford earned 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.
Ford found himself in new territory — leading after the first run. He didn't show any hint of nerves before pushing out of the start gate for his final pass. He gazed down at the awaiting course for a moment, before attacking. He flowed through the gates with the home crowd urging him to the finish line.
It's been quite a start to the season for the 30-year-old from Oregon. 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.
Ligety struggled on his final run and was 11th. He tossed his poles to the snow after seeing his time.
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 and has been dubbed “Mr. GS” by his rivals. “I haven't had to balance as much of my time, as far as squeezing training for four different disciplines. It's good just having to think only about GS. 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.
"I love skiing here. But today was a really bad day for me," Luitz said.
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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