An Olympic Alpine combined champion at Turin 2006, Ted Ligety went on to become the world’s leading giant slalom skier, a status he confirmed by winning gold in the event at Sochi 2014. Five times a giant slalom world champion – with three of those wins coming consecutively between 2011 and 2015 – Ligety failed to get in among the medals at PyeongChang 2018, but has not given up hope of returning to an Olympic podium one day.
There was no better place for a budding young skier like Ligety to grow up than Park City Mountain Resort in the Wasatch Mountains, right in the heart of the Rockies of Utah, the state whose car registration plates bear the legend “Greatest Snow on Earth.” Blessed with a natural talent and an ultra-competitive streak, the young Ligety loved racing and quickly earned a place at the resort’s Winter Sports School, which strives for both educational and sporting excellence. Having graduated back in 2002, Ligety is now one of the school’s ambassadors.
Recognised for his skiing skills, particularly his spectacular gift for cutting turns, Ligety starred on the USA junior team. He then made his World Cup debut at the age of 19, in a giant slalom in November 2003 in his home resort in Salt Lake City, which just a few months earlier had hosted the Alpine events at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
It was not long before Ligety was competing in giant slalom, slalom and the Alpine combined, gradually working his way to the top of his sport. The first major success of his career came at Turin 2006 when he won Olympic gold in the combined. Trailing in 32nd place after the downhill, he turned in two breath-taking slalom runs to top the podium ahead of Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic and Austria’s Rainer Schönfelder.
Ultimately it was in the giant slalom that the American skier was best able to express his prodigious ability. His maiden World Cup victory in the event came in Yongpyong (KOR) on 5 March 2006, the start of an extended period of domination in which he won the giant slalom small crystal globe five times between 2008 and 2014, scored a succession of victories, and lifted the giant slalom world title in 2011 and 2013.
“The GS is my event. I have to win it,” said Ligety, two days before taking on the world at Sochi 2014. Wearing the No7 bib, the American surged ahead of the field on the first run and stayed strong on the second to win by 0.48 seconds over France’s Steve Missilier, whose compatriot Alexis Pinturault finished 0.16 further back in third.
Ligety followed his Sochi success with victories in the final two giant slaloms of the 2013/14 season, letting the rest of the world know in no uncertain terms that he was in no mood to hand over his crown.
Though the 2014/15 World Cup campaign brought only one victory and three podium finishes in his favourite event, Ligety made up for it at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek (USA). He began in the Alpine combined, going second-fastest in the slalom behind Marcel Hirscher to climb up from 29th place after the downhill and win the bronze.
A few days later the American won his third consecutive giant slalom world title. Fifth after the first run, with a gap of 0.24 seconds to make up on the leader Hirscher, Ligety produced a searing second descent to relegate the Austrian to second place, 0.45 seconds behind him. It was the US skier’s fifth world title and his seventh world championship medal.
Following his 25th career giant slalom win in the opening race of the 2015/16 season in October in Sölden (AUT), the USA’s greatest all-time exponent of the discipline endured two truncated winters. That particular season ended in January with an injury to his right knee, while the following one was cut short by persistent hip problems that required two operations.
Ligety returned to action in the 2018 Olympic season and claimed the 52nd top-three finish of his World Cup career in taking third place in the giant in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GER) on 28 January. It was the USA men’s Alpine skiing team’s only podium finish of the winter.
Ligety duly earned selection for his fourth and, possibly, final Olympic Winter Games at PyeongChang 2018. He came home fifth in an Alpine combined race won by Hirscher, finishing 0.43 seconds adrift of third place.
Though satisfied with his efforts, he was disappointed not to come away with a medal, a feeling that intensified when he placed a lowly 15th in the giant slalom. Later that day he posted himself on Instagram with his eight-month-old son Jax and wrote: “This is the bright side of the day.
Speaking afterwards, just before turning 34, Ligety said: “I’ve got the motivation to carry on. I feel I’ve still got the speed and a few good races left in my legs. I’ll be 37 by the time the next Games come around, which is not too old for the ski competitions. There’s a chance. We’ll see.”
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