Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Park City’s Ted Ligety stood atop the slalom course Friday afternoon, knowing some skiers ahead of him were crashing. So he figured a safe, practical run would be worthy of a medal in the super combined event of the Olympics.
He was wrong.
Ligety’s cautious strategy went unrewarded in his first event of these Games, as he finished 12th in the competition that included a downhill run in the morning. The U.S. star finished third among his teammates, with Bode Miller sixth and Skyline High School product Jared Goldberg a surprising 11th in the race won by Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta.
Ligety’s performance clearly disappointed him. He stood 18th after the downhill portion, maintaining some degree of medal hopes. The slalom course that others described as oddly designed was easier than he anticipated, but it was obviously too late to change his approach once he crossed the finish line.
“I skied definitely way too conservatively,” Ligety said, “so that’s really frustrating, for sure. I would have rather blown out, being on the line of being too fast. I respected the course too much. … I didn’t match my intensity for what it would have taken to get a medal.”
The course setter was Ante Kostelic, the father of Croatian skier Ivica Kostelic, who finished second. The inconsistent placement of gates defied rhythmic skiing, with Goldberg labeling the course “not ugly, but ugly.”
The snow held up reasonably well in the afternoon sun, although Ligety would have preferred more difficult, icy conditions in his effort to make up time.
The winner of this event in last year’s world championships, Ligety appeared to be in good form in advance of the Olympics. He finished first and second in the event at World Cup stops in January. Upon arrival in Russia, he said a medal or even a victory Friday would be “well within my grasp if I ski well.”
But with three races remaining in these Games, he’s still looking for another Olympic medal to further distinguish himself.
Ligety won the Olympic combined event in Italy in 2006, when the format consisted of one downhill run and two slaloms. That gold medal stands alone in his big collection of international awards, with two other top-10 Olympic finishes — including a fifth in the 2010 combined event.
Ligety’s prime race in Russia should be next Wednesday’s giant slalom. He also has a podium shot in Sunday’s super-G, in which Goldberg also is entered.
Goldberg failed to make the U.S. downhill lineup last Sunday, so he was happy with Friday’s opportunity and his results. He stood 15th after the downhill portion and moved up with another solid run.
“I’m super-psyched to be top-15,” he said. “I’ve been skiing really well and been there in the World Cup, and to do it here with all the pressure, I’m super-excited about it.”
Goldberg, a Westminster College student, was especially pleased with his slalom run, because that’s not his specialty. “I know in the future, I can do way better, for how little I’ve trained in slalom,” he said. “I’ve been trying to be super-aggressive in that sense. It worked out pretty well.”