Park City honors skier Ted Ligety with processional, accolades
Park City • The question Saturday was whether Ted Ligety could pull off another year like the one he just finished.
The 28-year-old champion, who grew up skiing at Park City Mountain Resort, was given a hometown hero's welcome at the resort after an amazing year on the Alpine World Cup circuit.
In February, Ligety won three golds at the FIS Alpine World Championships in Austria in giant slalom, super-G and combined becoming the first man to do so since French legend Jean-Claude Killy accomplished the feat 45 years ago.
The former Olympian also finished third in the overall World Cup standings, winning six giant slalom races. He then capped the season by taking the men's slalom title at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Olympic Valley, Calif., last month.
"Hopefully, I can have more seasons like I had this year," Ligety said after an hour-long celebration at the resort where hundreds of young and old admirers gathered to welcome him home. "This is definitely going to be a difficult season to repeat. But I think that's the goal to always try to get better, so hopefully I can reach a different level."
There was little doubt the audience thought he was up to the challenge. Friends, family and former coaches touted Ligety's athleticism, amiability and work ethic.
"He is a champion. He's the best in the world," said Stein Eriksen, another ski legend, who had never met Ligety until Saturday, even though the two call Park City home.
"I've never heard a bad word about you," Eriksen, 85, said to Ligety, and then went on to pay him perhaps the ultimate compliment: "You are a gentle winner."
The celebration got under way when members of the youth Park City Ski Team carrying the flags of some 60 countries descended in wide arcs to the bottom of Pay Day run. They were followed by Ligety, who wore a robin's-egg-blue helmet and jacket and orange pants. He skidded to a stop in front of a large crowd who clapped and cheered as he carried his skis to a stage at Pay Day Plaza.
"He's like a hero," said Natalie Fink, 12, a member of the team for three years. "It's really cool to see him here in Park City, because he's such a great skier."
Fink hopes to follow in Ligety's footsteps. She vowed to put in all the hard work he did and continues to do in order one day to be a world champion, too.
"I really want to be in the World Cup and race for, like, a living, and actually race as much as he does," she said.
"He's amazing, and I would like to see him win some more races," said Gunnar Travis, 9, who has been on the team for a year. "Everybody looks up to him, and he's famous. I'm proud of him."
Tom Kelly, spokesman for the Park City-based U.S. Ski Team, said Ligety grew up watching some of the greatest skiers in the world. The Alpine World Cup Race was held in Park City for close to 15 years until it move on in 2003.
"Watching those sports heros built in him a sense of direction. Now the kids look up to him," Kelly said.
No one should underestimate Ligety's achievements, especially the three golds that he won in the space of one week. Killy managed to win four medals in 1968. Toni Sailer, an Austrian, won four in 1956, and Eriksen won three in 1954. What separates Ligety from them is he is the first U.S. skier to do what the other three, all Europeans, did.
"These are the biggest names in the sport. Now, he is in the same sentence as them," Kelly said.