Ted Ligety took the season-opening men's World Cup giant slalom on Sunday by the biggest winning margin since 1979.
In difficult conditions due to fog and snowfall, the American GS world champion won the race by a massive 2.75 seconds ahead of Manfred Moelgg of Italy.
"It's pretty phenomenal," Ligety said. "I didn't think this was possible. This is an unbelievable gap, a once-in-a-career margin."
According to the International Ski Federation, the time difference between winner and runner-up in a World Cup GS has only been bigger six times before — all in the 1970s. Sweden's standout Ingemar Stenmark holds the record with a gap of 4.06 seconds.
In the opening run, Ligety was among the first eight starters who were slowed by bad weather causing poor visibility before the sky cleared. He still posted the second-fastest time, trailing Thomas Fanara of France by 0.04.
"The first run starting that early was a disadvantage but it fired me up for the second run," Ligety said. "It gave me a lot of motivation because I felt I should have been in the lead and opened up a gap."
The American put in a risky yet error-free final run to claim victory in impressive style. Overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher came third, 3.12 seconds behind.
"I knew I was skiing well. I was going fast in training," Ligety said. "In the second run, I took more risks than anyone else, more than what was really smart, so I got a bit lucky there."
It was Ligety's 12th career win, all in GS. The American won the race here last season as well but ultimately lost his GS title to Hirscher, who was full of praise for the winner.
"My position is super, but this margin is almost insane," Hirscher said. "The top in GS is only Ligety, then comes the rest of the world. This is a big blow for us. It makes almost no sense racing against him. We have a lot of work to do."
Second-place Moelgg said it was Ligety's outstanding technique that set him apart.
"Ted is focusing on making smooth turns and completing them," Moelgg said. "Even if it's rough or bumpy, he keeps doing that to perfection and that's why he stands out."
New equipment rules
Ligety's achievement came in the first GS under new equipment rules, which force racers to use longer though narrower skis designed to slow them down.
A year ago, Ligety led a group of racers who were fiercely critical of the FIS when the federation announced the changes in an attempt to make the sport safer and reduce the number of injuries.
"I have been working really hard on these new skis to get to the point where I knew I was going to be among the best," Ligety said. "They are not as bad as a lot of us thought they would be. There is still a challenge as you get tired on them more easily. The argument we had last year is still very valid as I don't think they are any safer."
According to Ligety, racers "have to be a lot more solid technically, the skis don't come around as quickly so you really have to be on top of the turn."
Former overall champion Aksel Lund Svindal added that the new skis "are pretty good on hard snow but they are awful on soft snow."
"FIS might have a problem to make fair conditions at the end of the season," the Norwegian skier said. "At Lenzerheide, you have 10-plus degrees and the snow melts between first and second run. You can end up in a situation where your start number for the second run is more important than how good you ski."
Svindal and other favourites like Cyprien Richard of France and Andre Myhrer of Sweden, who was third after the first leg, failed to finish their final run. First-run leader Fanara took fourth, 3.23 seconds behind Ligety.
Switzerland's Beat Feuz, who had knee surgery after finishing runner-up to Hirscher in the overall standings last season, decided not to start the race.
Organizers said the event was attended by 12,000 spectators, though many of them missed out on the first run. The mountain road from the village of Soelden up to the glacier was temporarily closed after several fan buses got stuck in heavy snowfall.
The next men's World Cup race is a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 11.