Ligety aims to challenge overall champion Hirscher
SOELDEN, Austria (AP) When the men's Alpine skiing World Cup starts this weekend, Ted Ligety has his eyes on more than just his fourth straight win in the season-opening giant slalom.
The American also hopes a good start will boost his chances in the fight for the overall title, a goal he's been chasing for years.
Defending champion Marcel Hirscher, who wants to become the first male skier to win the overall World Cup four seasons in a row, regards Ligety and Alexis Pinturault as his main challengers, with last year's runner-up Aksel Lund Svindal out injured.
''From what I saw on Facebook, Ted is training downhill, super-G, slalom,'' Hirscher said Friday, two days before the race on the Rettenbach glacier. ''I think he is going for it.''
Ligety, the Olympic and world champion in GS, has finished in the top 10 of the overall standings every year since 2008, with third and fourth place in the past two seasons his best showings yet.
The GS is his standout event, and Ligety is well aware he needs to step up more in other disciplines in order to close the gap.
''If I keep the giant slalom going as it has been and get a little more consistent in super-G and slalom, maybe I have a chance,'' he said. ''Marcel is just so strong in (slalom and GS) and really doesn't have any lapses in races result-wise. That makes it very tough to compete with him.''
Apart from defending his GS title and fighting for the overall championship, Ligety said he'll be eager ''to get some medals at the world championships'' in Vail and Beaver Creek in February, where he defends his titles in GS, super-G and super-combined.
Where Ligety eyes his first, Hirscher could set a men's record with a fourth overall title. It would still leave him one short of fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell, who took five big crystal globes in a row on the women's circuit in the early 1970s.
Hirscher said the unique opportunity will not be a distraction this season.
''There is a chance, not more and not less,'' Hirscher said. ''It's not on my mind now but when I am 50 or 60 years old, it's certainly cool to be able to say you have done it. So far, nobody has done it four times because it's brutally hard.''
Hirscher's main rival over the past two seasons won't bother him this year. Svindal, a two-time former champion, tore the Achilles tendon in his left foot last week while playing soccer.
The Norwegian standout will be sidelined for an indefinite recovery period, though he hasn't fully ruled out a return for the world championships.
''I stay positive,'' Svindal said. ''If you ask a doctor, he'll probably say that's too early. But I'll do my best and let's see what happens.''
The absence of Svindal could turn Pinturault into Hirscher's closest rival. The 23-year-old Frenchman has been rapidly climbing up the rankings, from 10th in 2012 to sixth in 2013 and third last season.
''It's difficult to know at the beginning of the winter if you can do it or not,'' Pinturault said. ''I think I am prepared for it. I will for sure try my best but it's not going to be easy.''
Pinturault won the final super-G of last season, leaving the downhill as the only discipline where he is yet to win a race.
''Alexis is the best all-event skier out there as he has won races in four events now,'' Ligety said.
In the offseason, Pinturault and 2012 slalom champion Andre Myhrer both joined Head, the equipment supplier Ligety has been working with since 2010.
Having his slalom rivals working with the same ski company could turn out in his favor, according to the American.
''Having Andre and Alexis on Head helps a lot,'' Ligety said. ''There is more feedback on the skis. The last couple of years it has been mostly myself and Bode (Miller) giving input on the skis.''
The slalom specialists testing in the offseason and working with technicians on the material has already paid off, Ligety said.
''I've really seen a big step up in the skis this year over the summer,'' he said. ''So I guess I'll have a much better chance there.''