KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) — Olympic champion Ted Ligety posted the fastest time in the opening run of a men's World Cup giant slalom on Saturday.
The American timed 1 minute, 12.66 in spring-like conditions on the Podkoren course to build a 0.43-second lead over Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen, who won the junior world title in GS four days ago. Matts Olsson of Sweden led Ligety until the final split but lost time in the bottom part and came 0.50 behind in third.
"In ski racing it's always up in the air what can happen, hopefully I can ski the same in the second run," said Ligety, who is chasing his fourth win of the season and 21st overall in the discipline. Ligety is a five-time winner in the Slovenian resort and can become the first man to win six World Cup races in one discipline at the same venue.
"The hill is good. This hill is always a place where I really like skiing," he said, adding that the warm weather didn't affect the course. "The snow is actually pretty good." Ligety won the world title and his fourth career GS crystal globe last year but is only an outsider for this season's World Cup title after failing to score points in two races.
Winning Olympic gold in Sochi "makes you feel more happy about your season but it doesn't really change anything in the World Cup races," Ligety said. Two-time defending overall champion Marcel Hirscher finished 0.74 off the lead. The Austrian tops the discipline standings and could lock up the discipline title if he wins the race. Hirscher is currently 95 points ahead of France's Alexis Pinturault, who was 1.12 behind in seventh, and 100 points clear of Ligety.
Overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway trailed Ligety by 1.49. Svindal and Hirscher are separated by 77 points in the overall standings. "My position is very good but winning this race will be very difficult," Hirscher said. "When you're at the start and know that not finishing would be bad, you can't get that out of your head."
Leif Kristian Haugen posted faster intermediate times than Ligety but had a nasty crash just before the finish. The Norwegian led Ligety by 0.10 when he lost his balance and fell through the final gate before sliding over the finish line. But as his skis had passed the gate correctly, he avoided disqualification and was ranked eighth, 1.22 behind.
Bode Miller had a mistake in the steep middle part of the course and finished 1.93 behind Ligety in 18th.