Krasnaya Polyana, Russia
Ted Ligety crossed the finish line, performed the ski racing equivalent of a slide into second base and raised his poles in triumph.
Eight years later, he was an Olympic champion again, winning Wednesday’s two-run giant slalom at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. Ligety’s life may have changed considerably since 2006, but his newest gold medal is every bit as precious.
Maybe more so, considering where he stands in the sport, what’s expected of him now and what two golds mean in skiing history. As a multiple-discipline world champion, Ligety came into these Games with exponentially more pressure than in ’06.
“I was definitely more nervous than I’ve ever been for a ski race,” said his father, Bill.
The skier’s emotion, upon winning? “Relief,” he said.
“Me, too,” his father said. “Oh, boy, was it ever.”
That’s because this guy no longer is the overachiever who grew up racing at Park City Mountain Resort, who didn’t distinguish himself as “one of the prodigies,” as a youth coach once said, and somehow became a gold medalist. He’s far beyond the stage when his parents were his primary sponsors, funding a career that nobody was sure would take off — and certainly didn’t imagine reaching this level.
As he said that night in Italy after his victory in the combined event, “I wouldn’t have ever expected to be where I am right now.”
Just look where he is — and who he is — at 29. He’s not nicknamed “Ligety-split” anymore; he’s “Shred,” the name of his own line of skiing products, with his signature helmet and goggles atop the press conference dais.
Since 2006, Ligety has launched his company, landed major endorsements and established himself as an international star with seven-figure earnings. Yet there was this little matter of the Olympics, the every-four-years moment when everybody’s noticing. So as important as World Cup races may be, they’re “not like the pinnacle of your life,” his father said.
After so-so showings in his first two events in Russia, Ligety knew the GS was his race. Of course, that degree of confidence was accompanied by pressure and anxiety. So the performance, under those circumstances, gave him “really, really an awesome feeling,” he said.
“Eight years ago,” his father said, “we had no expectation whatsoever that he was going to do well at all. … Whereas coming here, it’s just totally the opposite.”
Thanks partly to Ligety’s living up to his advertising, Utah’s homegrown stars are having a good Olympics. Ligety’s showing follows a gold for Joss Christensen in freeskiing, a silver for Noelle Pikus-Pace in skeleton and a bronze for Steven Holcomb in two-man bobsledding. Mix in gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg, Kaitlyn Farrington and David Wise, with varying ties to the state, and these Games are working out nicely for Utah.
The final weekend will become a sort of Park City Open, with Ligety seeking another medal in Saturday’s slalom. Holcomb, who gave up his Olympic-level skiing ambitions a few years before Ligety came along, will try for another gold medal (and third overall) in Sunday’s four-man bobsled event.
Ligety delivered Wednesday with a blistering first run, followed by what amounted to a victory lap in the afternoon — although this is ski racing, and nothing is truly routine. He finished the second run a full second slower than silver medalist Steve Missillier of France, but stayed nearly a half-second ahead overall.
He could have won by a record margin, but this achievement is sufficiently historic. The kid from Park City, who started in a day program that involved coloring as much as skiing, is the first U.S. men’s Alpine skier with two Olympic gold medals.
Utah-born athletes with Winter Games medals:
Ted Ligety, Alpine skiing, 2006, 2014.
Steven Holcomb, bobsled, 2010.
Joss Christensen, freeskiing, 2014.
Brett Camerota, Nordic combined (team), 2010.
Steven Holcomb, bobsled, 2014.