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Ligety holds huge lead after 1st giant slalom run

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ANDREW DAMPF | February 19, 2014 04:17 AM EST | AP

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Ted Ligety took a huge lead in the first run of the Olympic giant slalom Wednesday, and was poised to give the U.S. its first Alpine gold of the Sochi Games.

After dominating this discipline the last two seasons, Ligety sped down the Rosa Khutor course in 1 minute, 21.08 seconds.

Ondrej Bank on the Czech Republic was the only skier who finished within a second of Ligety, crossing 0.93 behind. Davide Simoncelli of Italy was third, 1.27 behind.

The second run was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. (1030 GMT).

"I've had a lot of races where I've had this kind of lead and a pretty good track record maintaining that and winning those," Ligety said. "I know that I don't have to take the mega-risk."

Downhill gold medalist Matthias Mayer of Austria and Thomas Fanara of France were tied for fourth, 1.33 behind. French contender Alexis Pinturault stood sixth, 1.36 behind, and overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria was seventh, 1.39 behind Ligety.

Conditions were perfect, with the temperature right at the freezing level and skies partly cloudy.

Starting with the No. 7 bib, Ligety showed off his unparalleled technique of arcing turns, leaning down and touching the snow with his hips, gloves and thighs. Other skiers displayed sharper turns but Ligety's were far more fluid.

When he reached the finish, Ligety was clearly satisfied, pumping his fist and saluting the crowd.

"This hill is not so difficult skiing-wise, but it's difficult tactically and so I was trying to be smart over those big tactical terrain changes and then push as hard as I could in the sections where I knew I could take some risk and knew I had to push hard," Ligety said.

Ligety has won nine of 14 World Cup giant slalom races this season and last season. He took gold in GS at the last two world championships and won the season-long World Cup title in the discipline four of the last six years.

However, Ligety didn't win any medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

His only Olympic medal was gold in combined at the 2006 Turin Games as a 21-year-old — before he had ever won a World Cup race.

"That's the reality: He's the best guy," said U.S. teammate Tim Jitloff, who was 21st. "He is really smart, too. He knows what he's capable of and he just trusts that and he goes for it.

"A lot of guys like myself or others will really push it because we feel like we've got to do more to get in there," Jitloff added. "He's always pretty safe, but he's always generating huge amounts of power and trusting that. ... It looks really clean, no issues, but he's really moving."

Felix Neureuther of Germany was eighth, 1.43 behind, despite struggling with a neck injury from a car crash last week; and defending champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland was ninth, 1.44 back.

Bode Miller had a scrappy run and ended up in 26th.

Stefan Luitz of Germany reached the finish in second place but was immediately disqualified for straddling a gate.

With 109 racers in the field, it took about two hours to complete the first run, with 26 skiers not finishing.

Himanshu Thakur, one of only three athletes from India at the games, was 79th out of the 79 skiers who completed their runs, 26.78 seconds behind Ligety.

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