Tommy Ford is back in the spotlight following the second GS stop of the season in Santa Caterina, Italy. At the age of 31, Ford started the season with a back injury, which dogged him since October. Working with a physical therapist, physical trainers and a mental coach, Ford stuck to a flexible plan and surprised many observers — given his injury and less-than-complete prep period — with a sixth and second-place finish over two days of racing. His recovery plan appears to have been successful.
Ford has had his share of recovery after his first major injury at the age of 23 in 2012. Eight years later, Ford has learned to navigate the emotions, physical pain, and expectations that come with healing. He listens to his body and is mindful throughout the healing process to know when he can push himself once again. While he has not fully recovered from his most recent injury, Ford is already feeling like he has progressed since Soelden and can move more freely on his skis. Certainly, a World Cup second-place finish will provide a boon of confidence.
For the two-time Olympian, it was a third-career podium Monday in Santa Caterina, nearly one year to the day from his first career World Cup podium, when he won the GS at Beaver Creek. Later in the season, Ford returned to the podium in Naeba, Japan, finishing third, and he went on to finish top five in GS standings.
Going into the weekend, Ford was challenged with difficult training on icy, rocky conditions. He was struggling to find balance in his skiing, he said, and opted for some time outside the gates to hone things back in.
“I took a couple free runs that helped me gain some confidence in my stance, so I felt good from there on out,” said Ford. “In general, it’s just standing tall on my skis regardless of the conditions and trusting that.”
Without a particular focus going into the weekend, Ford hoped to put down clean, consistent skiing and finish all four runs. He knew the race would be tight; it was a moderate hill that required racers to not only keep momentum but try to build speed and ski clean at every turn to carry that speed from top to bottom. Ford was able to ski clean and consistent on Saturday to land in sixth place before a snow storm postponed the second GS race by a day. Moving into Monday’s race, Ford looked to stay smooth and consistent amid the new snow.
“It was nice to have some fresh snow,” said Ford. “They did a great job scraping off the soft stuff. It was actually a pretty hard surface from top to bottom, kind of Beaver Creek-ish snow conditions with some variable soft spots and icey spots here and there. In general, I felt like I was skiing well.”
Ford was 0.43 off the lead in fourth after the opening run. Snow conditions held up for the second run besides a few waves and chatter here and there. Ford felt right at home with the conditions and focused his mindset on continuing what he did first run, but it was a tight race, anything was possible.
Ford pushed out of the gate on his second run with smooth skiing, generating speed the entire length of the course. He edged Saturday’s champion Filip Zubcic of Croatia by two-hundredths of a second and held the lead up until the final skier, Marco Odermatt of Switzerland. Odermatt had a powerful start pushing across the top flats, searching for aerodynamics. He ultimately extended his lead to capture the victory, with Ford 0.73 seconds behind.
“I was a bit surprised to see that margin,” said Ford. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, every run. It’s kinda hard to tell. There are some great skiers out there. Zubcic is charging and Odermatt seems pretty solid these days. There are definitely a lot of unknowns with it, but I am pretty excited.”
Looking ahead, Ford will need to change his tempo from the smooth carving turns of Santa Caterina to the steep-hill, terrain turns, and increased length that comes at the next World Cup stop in Alta Badia. Ford expects a rhythmical course set that will challenge him to arc the entirety of the course.
The U.S. men’s tech team will now take the next 10 days training in Folgaria, Italy, before the next GS races in Alta Badia on Dec. 20-21. Folgaria is the ideal training venue to prepare on two different hills that resemble the steep pitch and turny terrain of Alta Badia, Ford says.
The snowfall that postponed Santa Caterina’s second GS until Monday made its way throughout the central European Alps and created solid conditions for the men to capitalize on for the next training block. Ford has momentum on his side going into the rest of the season and is focused on creating consistency in his skiing, ready to push when it feels appropriate.