Ted Ligety captures gold medal in giant slalom

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Ted Ligety had been working up to this moment since he became the best in the world at what he does seven years ago.

Now, on a sunny day in the mountains in south Russia, it was right there.

Right there.

There were two outcomes. He could grab it, like everyone expected him to all winter.

Or he could blow it.

There was no in-between. He had a huge lead, certainly, but a whole lot of pressure on him, too.

And then Ligety, who performs an intricate, athletic dance through a giant slalom course, skiing like no one else before him or with him, kicked out of the start hut . . .

And grabbed it.

With a monumental lead of 1.5 seconds over then-leader Steve Missillier of France, skiing last among the contenders, Ligety got to the finish line in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 45.29 seconds, beating silver medalist Missillier by 0.48 seconds and Alexis Pinturault, another Frenchman, by 0.64.

A gold medal in the Olympic giant slalom was his.

Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah, became just the second U.S. skier ever to possess two Olympic gold medals, joining Andrea Mead-Lawrence, who won the slalom and giant slalom gold medals way back in 1952.

Phil Mahre, Bill Johnson, Picabo Street, Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and other great American skiers have just one gold.

Ligety also became the first U.S. male to win the Olympic giant slalom, an event he now officially owns.

Ski racing has changed a lot since Mead-Lawrence doubled in 1952. Actually, it's changed a lot in giant slalom just since two years ago, when the FIS, the international federation of skiing, mandated a change in GS equipment, ordering the use of longer, straighter skis.

The new skis are harder to turn than shorter-shaped skis, but Ligety, who was also good on the old skis, figured out early on how the new skis and his style of longer, arced turns could come together in a faster tour through the gates.

No one else has been able to duplicate his speed on a GS course, and he was won some races in the past two years by huge margins.

The first run Wednesday was such a time.

Maybe six or so skiers were given a chance to compete with Ligety in the race, most prominently World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher and Pinturault.

Ligety watched his contenders, some of the best skiers in the world, kick out of the start gate and post seemingly fast times, the first six of them all within 0.52 seconds of one another.

Then Ligety, who has won four World Cup season titles and two world championships in giant slalom, wearing bib No. 7, in the most important run of his life, absolutely annihilated his competition.

On a tactically challenging course-set, Ligety made one beautifully rounded turn after another and finished in a time of 1 minute, 21.08 seconds.

When his time was posted — 1.33 seconds faster than then-leader Thomas Fanara of France — the crowd at the Rosa Khutor alpine center gasped.

The margin was later trimmed to 1.27 seconds when Davide Simoncelli of Italy came in second from the 20th start position, and then to 0.93 when Czech Ondrej Bank took the second spot from way back in the 28th spot.

Pinturault and Hirscher were nearly 1½ seconds behind, in sixth and seventh place.

A margin of a second — or 0.93, in this case — is huge for a combined time of two giant slalom runs. For one run, it's a little mind-boggling how much better Ligety was than the rest of the field.

In the second run, he actually started with a 1.50 seconds lead on Missillier, who had the fastest second run and was in second position with only Ligety left among the contenders.

He knew that, and he skied conservatively. But at one point, he almost slid out on a right-boot turn.

He avoided the catastrophe and smoothly tucked it into the finish. His second run was just the 14th-fastest. It's all he needed. He won this on the first run.

Ligety won a surprise gold medal in combined as a 21-year-old in the Torino Olympics but, expected to win a GS medal in Vancouver, he was shut out.

He came to Sochi as the reigning world champion in giant slalom, as well as super-G and super-combined.

But in Sochi, he finished 12th in the super-combined and then 14th in super-G.

"The combined was definitely a big disappointment, mostly because I knew I could've skied a lot faster," he said. "That's the most disappointing thing. Super-G I skied great and just made a huge mistake. Without that one mistake it would've been close for a medal. That's frustrating but at least I knew I was skiing fast.

"I've known coming in here that my GS is in a good spot so I'm happy to be able to ski the way I know I can ski."

Miller, 36, who in seemingly another lifetime was a great GS skier — he won an Olympic silver medal in GS in 2002 but last won a GS race in 2005 — had a ragged run and finished 26th in the first run, too far out to contend in the second run.

Miller, who tied for a bronze medal Sunday in the Olympic super-G, talked about being bothered during the Games by both of his knees. He missed all of last season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. He twisted his right knee in a violent crash in a GS race in St. Moritz a week before the first Olympic race.

After the second run, Miller said he won't compete in the slalom Saturday, so the GS was his last race of these Games and probably of his Olympic career.

"I put in the work," Miller said. "It leaves me with a positive feeling that I did my best. I wish I could have done more here, but I'm happy with a medal."


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