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Utah’s Ted Ligety aiming for fast start to World Cup season

United States's Ted Ligety passes a gate during the first run of the men's giant slalom at the Alpine skiing world championships in Schladming, Austria, Friday, Feb.15, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

By Michael C. Lewis | Special to The Tribune

First published Oct 24 2013 09:36AM
Updated Feb 19, 2014 09:04AM

Triple world champion ski racer Ted Ligety destroyed his rivals in the giant slalom last season, when he won six races on the World Cup circuit — double his previous best — including four by astronomical margins of more than two seconds.

The 29-year-old Park City native is aiming to start the new season the same way he began last year, with a resounding victory in Soelden, Austria.

"I’m still confident that I’m in a place where I can win a lot of GSs," he said.

Fellow Olympic champion teammate Lindsey Vonn is skipping the women’s opener in Soelden on Saturday to complete her recovery from a devastating knee injury; the greatest American female skier ever expects to return at the season’s third World Cup stop on Nov. 29 in Beaver Creek, Colo.

But the men’s giant slalom on Sunday will give Ligety an early idea about whether his challengers can climb any closer, now that they have had even more time to figure out the new longer skis mandated by the International Ski Federation, and so loathed by Ligety himself.

"Definitely, people will catch up," he said.

There is a lot of catching up to do, though, and Ligety has shown that the new skis suit him best of all.

Still, he has hardly let up with his ongoing criticism of the international federation (FIS) for changing the rules before last season, supposedly in the name of safety. The federation increased the minimum length of skis, as well as the minimum turning radius, altering their hourglass shape. That happens to suit his style, Ligety said, but it also makes the skis harder to turn and not any safer.

"In a lot of ways, it’s made it more dangerous," he said, "because you have to really muscle the ski around and manipulate and twist on the ski."

Nevertheless, Ligety will be a big favorite in Soelden, as well as in Sochi, whose giant-slalom course he said resembles the one at Beaver Creek, where he has won the last two World Cup giant slaloms. He’s one of nine scheduled starters for the U.S. Ski Team this weekend — including Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, Mikaela Shiffrin and Park City’s Megan McJames — following the best season of his career, one in which he won three gold medals at the world championships, in the giant slalom, combined and super-G.

"To watch Ted do that, it’s inspirational," said Miller, who’s aiming for his fifth Olympics.

Ligety has won four giant slalom season titles in the last six years, but he’s also hoping to make a run at the overall World Cup title, after finishing third last season behind Austria’s Marcel Hirschner and Norway’s Aksal Lund Svindal. To that end, he said he spent a little more time working on his slalom during the offseason, after enjoying the best super-G finish of his career last year.

"It’s not an easy feat by any means,," he said, "but I think it’s something that’s doable."

Of course, he also hopes to shine in Sochi, where he could add some hardware to the gold medal he won in the combined at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

"The best way to have a good Olympics is just having a good World Cup season," he said. "If you start taking races off here or there, and it doesn’t work out in the Olympics, you kind of ruined a season. It’s best to focus on the World Cup stuff before the Olympics happen. That way you’ll be best prepared for the Olympics."

Meanwhile, he probably won’t stop bashing the FIS.

"FIS has proven themselves to be wrong every time they make new ski regulations," he said. "Before, they made the skis wider and that made the skis more aggressive and created more injuries and now they’re making them narrower. They keep having all these ideas that they test very mildly and they don’t work, and then a couple years later they go back. I think it would be better if they just stayed out of it and let the ski companies make the regulations."

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