Park City’s Ted Ligety takes aim at skiing history in world championship giant slalom
By Michael C. Lewis
Special to The TribuneFirst published Feb 14 2013 12:33PM
Ted Ligety believes he might have finally discovered the secret to consistently blazing to the top of the international ski racing world.
Basically, try not to care too much about blazing to the top of the international ski racing world.
The 28-year-old Park City native says that, as much as anything, has contributed to his tremendous success of the last fortnight at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — two gold medals in events in which he wasn’t considered a favorite, with a chance at a historic third in his signature race on Friday in Schladming, Austria.
"It’s just something I try to do now," he said in a telephone interview this week. "Before, I think oftentimes I was afraid of losing too much. I would just kind of ski a little bit too much on tactics, and now I’m just not caring so much about the result but caring about how the approach goes when I’m on the course. That ends up working a lot better."
Hard to argue.
Ligety emerged as the shining star of the U.S. Ski Team, mere days after icon Lindsey Vonn suffered a season-ending knee injury that has jeopardized her chances of racing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia less than a year from now.
He already has won the super-combined and the super-G to become only the fourth American to win two golds at a single world championships — Vonn, Bode Miller and Andrea Mead-Lawrence are the others — and he could become the first skier of any kind to win three since legendary Jean-Claude Killy swept four races on home soil in France in 1968, when the Olympics doubled as the world championships.
"If I can just ski the way I’ve been skiing this year," he said, "I should have a good chance."
That’s because his final race of the championships comes in his best event, the giant slalom.
Ligety is the defending world champion — by nature, he’s a giant-slalom specialist — who has won four of the five World Cup races in that discipline this season. All 15 of his career World Cup victories have come in giant slalom, along with all three of his discipline titles.
"Ligety is the perfect GS skier," said Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who leads the overall World Cup standings and is the only other skier to win a giant slalom this season. "He has been everyone’s benchmark for five years now. I have tried to copy a lot from his style to get as close as possible to him."
Ligety said he knows there’s a lot of pressure on him to win, "because this is the most important medal to me — this world championships, I’m the defending world champion and it’s an event that I’ve done so well in. I’m not sure if the pressure is more or less, because of that, but I’m looking forward to the chance."
However it comes out, Ligety has proven he’s not just a slalom skier, anymore.
His three world titles have each come in different disciplines, and his gradual improvement in the speed events — he was sixth in the downhill portion of the super-combined, for example — suggest that it’s time to start thinking seriously about him as an all-event skier.
"That’s been the goal of my career," he said. "It’s nice for me to get away from the title of ‘Mr. GS’ and be more of an overall skier."
Ironically, Ligety said that controversial rule changes last year that he famously opposed actually have helped him ski better in the speed events — although they did force a big adjustment in the giant slalom, as he’d expected.
The new rules requiring longer and straighter skis also made his skis narrower, he said, and "for me and my technique, I think that makes it easier for me" in the speed events.
Equally important, he said, was the mental side of his game.
Of course, Ligety was always pretty good at that.
He won a surprise gold medal in the combined as a 22-year-old at the 2006 Turin Olympics in Italy, which presaged a memorable career that has now reached nine years on the World Cup circuit and 34 medals.
But he finished only fifth, ninth and 19th in his three races at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada, leading him to change the way he thought about his racing.
"Doing so poorly in the 2010 Olympics really pushed me to that area, where I would go as hard as I could and not care," he said. "Well, I guess I care equally as much, if not more, about the result as I did then. But to be able to be happy with my approach and be happy about how I skied, and let that be more the determining factor than necessarily the placing, I think has helped me get to the top more often."
Worry less, ski better?
It certainly seems to be working for Ligety, who needs just one more victory to take a place among skiing royalty.
Only three other men have won three golds in a single world championships — France’s Emile Allais in 1937, Norway’s Stein Ericksen in 1954 and Austria’s Toni Sailer, who won four in 1956 when the Olympics also doubled as worlds, and three in 1958.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.