Olympics: Park City’s Ted Ligety dominates for giant slalom gold
By Michael C. Lewis
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 19 2014 06:18AM
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Ted Ligety did not just win the giant slalom at the Sochi Olympics.
He owned it.
Yanked it away from everybody else, stamped his name across the front and hung it out his living room window.
In his last real chance to medal here, the greatest giant slalom skier of his generation faced down all the pressure that came with his sparkling resume — two-time world champion in the event, four-time World Cup champion, three-time Olympian — and coolly used his unique style and a "flawless" first run, in the words of coach Sasha Rearick, to carve out a signature victory in his signature event on Wednesday.
"There’s no question who’s the best GS skier right now," teammate Bode Miller said.
The 29-year-old Park City native won by 0.48 seconds, a big margin in ski racing that wasn’t four times as large only because Ligety skied his second run more conservatively, with a massive lead and a course that featured several dangerous spots that could have taken him out.
His performance delivered his first Olympic medal since winning a surprise gold in the combined at the 2006 Turin Games — he’s the first American to win an Olympic giant slalom — and made up for a disappointing performance at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where he failed to win a medal.
"It was a huge relief," he said. "I’ve been wanting to win this medal my whole life. Even moreso … the last few years.
"All season long, everybody talks about the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics," he added. "At a certain point, I was just like, ‘Let’s do it already. Let’s get this thing over with so we can stop talking about the pressure and everything with it.’ So it’s awesome to be able to come here and be able to compete and finally do it and get the monkey off the back, I guess."
France’s Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault claimed silver and bronze — Miller finished 20th in the last Olympic race of his illustrious career — but that was a battle unto itself.
Ligety is so strong in giant slalom that the race for gold was over almost before it began.
Top rival Marcel Hirscher of Austria had given himself "no chance" to win if Ligety skied perfectly, and he was out of the picture as soon as Ligety took his brilliant first run down a course he had skied many times, by virtue of a U.S. Ski Team partnership with the Russians.
Using his unmatched ability to carve smoother curves and maintain his speed by staying lower and turning wider around the gates, Ligety finished his first run 0.93 seconds faster than journeyman Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic, who later faded to fifth.
Fellow American Tim Jitloff said it was all over, right there.
"It just reminded me of too many races where I’ve been like, ‘OK, he’s got a big lead and he’s going to do what he usually does,’ which is ski just solid and clean and he’ll come down and win by a large amount — which is what he did," Jitloff said.
"It reminds me of when [tennis star Roger Federer] was so dominant there for about four years," he added. "Everyone’s like, ‘What do you do? How do you beat him?’ I don’t know."
Indeed, the second run felt more like a coronation than a competition.
Rival after rival came down the hill, unable to come close to challenging Ligety and then trying to explain what makes him so good. Ligety has won 20 World Cup races in giant slalom, as well as four of the past six World Cup titles and the past two world championships.
"Last four or five years," Austria’s Benjamin Raich pondered, "unbelievable."
Raich is the man from whom Ligety assumed the mantle of best giant slalom skier in the world, having won Olympic gold in the event in 2006, as well as two World Cup titles before Ligety came along.
But here, he was just another spectator, in the shadow of greatness.
Ligety was so far ahead after his first run, he needed only the 14th-fastest second run to win by the biggest margin since the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and make up for his off-the-podium performances here in the super-combined and super-G — the other two events he won at the world championships last year. He also said he plans to compete at least through the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in Korea.
Oh, one more example of his dominance?
Missillier skied the fastest time of the second run, and it was still nearly two seconds slower than Ligety’s first run.
"I knew there was a lot of pressure on today and I really wanted to perform and ski the way I knew I could ski," Ligety said. "To be able to perform and do what I wanted to on skis and have it equal a gold medal is truly awesome."