SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Defending champion Ted Ligety took a big 1.30-second lead after the opening run of the giant slalom on Friday to put himself in position for a third gold medal at the skiing world championships.
If the American wins, he will become the first man with three or more gold medals at a worlds since French great Jean-Claude Killy earned four in 1968.
Ligety, who won the super-G and super-combined titles, finished his run on the Planai course in 1 minute, 13.14 seconds.
"I felt like I skied pretty well," Ligety said. "I skied clean the whole way and I was pushing hard and I think other guys maybe didn't ski as well as they normally do. But I felt like I had a solid run."
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was second, and overall champion Marcel Hirscher was 1.31 behind in third. The Austrian is the only racer other than Ligety to win a World Cup GS this season.
"Ted is the man," Svindal said. "The rest of us are fighting for second. He's the best in the world. ... On this course, it's not always possible to ski fast, you've just got to find a good rhythm. It's not possible to beat Ted, I think, but behind him it looks open."
Thomas Fanara of France came closest as he trailed Ligety by just 0.17 at his final intermediate time but missed a gate and failed to finish.
"To be close to the finish line with a good time, it's difficult for me," Fanara said. "I didn't have a good feeling and the snow condition was difficult. I was tired and my mind wasn't completely clear."
Ligety announced an attacking second run but added he would avoid "crazy risks."
"We're only halfway there," Ligety said. "There's a lot that can happen between now and the finish of this race. First run I pushed hard the whole way but I didn't take any unnecessary risks and that's what I'm going to do second run, too."
Hirscher was regarded as Ligety's closest challenger after beating the American in Val d'Isere, France, in December and coming close to doing so again in Adelboden, Switzerland, last month, where the Austrian led until a mistake shortly before the finish.
Austrian coach Andreas Puelacher placed the gates for the first run, but the course set didn't seem to favor Hirscher, who lost most time to Ligety in the middle section. He trailed the American by 1.43 at one point before slightly reducing his deficit.
Hirscher hurt his lower back while training in nearby Haus on Thursday and was having treatment again after his first run.
A three-time World Cup GS champion, Ligety has won four races in the discipline this season and 15 overall. His last win came in Adelboden on Jan. 12, the last race before the worlds.
"It's tough when we haven't raced this long in giant slalom." Ligety said. "It kind of takes your edge off the guys who only ski GS. I've just had a good feeling on this hill and snow and I have high confidence, so I think that helps me right now."