Ted Ligety: "There's still something left in the tank."
At 36 years old, the competitive fires still burn brightly for Ted Ligety.
The double Olympic alpine skiing gold medallist and five-time world champion, also known as Mr GS, begins his 17th World Cup season this weekend in Soelden.
The American finished fifth at the Austrian resort a year ago, his best result since taking third at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in January 2018.
Soelden was also the site of the last of his 25 World Cup victories at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Ligety tells Olympic Channel he is focusing solely on giant slalom so he can make a fifth Olympic Games at Beijing 2022.
"I feel like there's still good skiing left in the tank. I can come up with the reasons why it hasn't gone as well in my head and stuff. But in a sense, I just really feel like I love what I'm doing. And once it's done, there's no coming back."
In an exclusive interview, Ligety also talks about the contrasting emotions he felt after winning his two Olympic gold medals, and how he misses competing against Hermann Maier, former USA team-mate Bode Miller, and Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who he describes as "one of my childhood heroes."
"It's been a fun journey. It's a fun job. I still love the feeling of going out there and racing and being competitive. And it's hard to think of what could fill that void afterwards." - Ted Ligety
Fatherhood has been life-changing for Ligety
While he wants to continue racing for as long as he can, Ligety has another role to fulfil.
His first son, Jax, was born in 2017 with partner Mia Pascoe giving birth to twin boys in July.
And Ligety says fatherhood has given him a fresh incentive to make the Beijing Games.
"Having kids totally changes your perspective on life in general. I mean, they become the most important part of your life. It's really hard sometimes, but it's also super fulfilling. My oldest son, he's three years old and it's fun all the stuff you can do with him. His conversations are just constantly hilarious.
"He will be five at the next Olympics. One of the reasons I want to keep going is it'd be cool to have him remember me being in the Olympics and what I did as a career before I do whatever I do in the next section of my life."
Looking after the body
Ski racers often have a long list of injuries and Ligety - who in 2013 became the first man to win three golds at a single World Championships for 45 years - is no exception.
As well as enabling him to spend more time with his family, provided there are no further travel complications due to the Covid pandemic, concentrating on giant slalom gives him a better chance of keeping his body going to Beijing.
If he does reach the 2022 Games in China, he will be 37, making him the oldest American alpine skier at an Olympics.
That title currently belongs to Bode Miller who was 36 years and 130 days when he raced in the giant slalom at Sochi 2014, which Ligety won.
Ligety said, "I don't feel like I'm a young, spry kid anymore, that's for sure. But I'm not in a place where I'm a broken down car anymore either. Nowadays I take a lot more care of my body and try to maintain, you know, a lot of different stuff. I mean, my back has been the main issue.
"I've had knee injuries, but none of them have really been chronic. So it's just the back that I have to keep care of. And it's a lot of work like on a daily basis, doing foundation, doing a lot of posterior chain training. I'm just trying to stay ahead of it, stay flexible. And it's stuff that I didn't always pay attention to when I was younger.
"As an old man, I definitely take care of my body more, because this is the tool that lets me do what I want to do." - Ted Ligety
Life after skiing
He might well miss the thrill of racing, but Ligety will not be short of things to do when he hangs up his skis.
As well looking after his young family, the Utah native helps run a company making goggles, helmets, and protective wear for skiers, snowboarders, and bikers, which he co-founded just after winning combined gold at Torino 2006.
He said, "I feel like when I started there were ski racing brands which I would never wear on a day free skiing because it would label you as a ski racing dork. And then there's free ski and snowboard brands that kind of always pitted everybody against each other. I wanted to create a brand that was embracing of all that and had the features and the uses for ski racing, but also for going on a powder day or heli-skiing or hitting the park.
"It's been fun. It's a nice release and a different project for me than looking at ski video and trying to figure out how to go faster.
"Maybe I give myself too much credit for the foresight of a 21-year-old, but I always wanted to start a business in the ski world and stay involved. It's a fun project and it's something that will continue on for hopefully a long time and continue to grow and get better."
The future of American men's alpine skiing
As he nears the end of his illustrious career, Ligety is happy to pass the flame on to the next generation of U.S. ski racers like Luke Winters and River Radamus, who won three golds at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
He said, "I think there's definitely a lot of potential in guys like Luke and River. Luke last year showed his speed in Val d'Isere (slalom) getting second on the first run. I think he just had a little bit of the jitters having such a tremendous run, but he was able to get in the points a bunch of times outside of that, which was impressive for his first full year on the World Cup.
"I think he shows a lot of promise. He's a really good kid. He has an awesome work ethic. He skis well, he's a critical thinker, so I think it could be really impressive what he could do.
"River has a ton of potential. I mean, he's shown that he can he can do it at the highest level in junior races. He's yet to really put it together at World Cup but he has the skiing ability to do it. So I'm rooting for those guys every step of the way.
"That's the thing about ski racing, there's some 19-year-old kid that I don't really know about right now that in two years could be winning World Cups. It can happen that fast. So I think we have a bright future, it's just the guys have to put it together."
Over the years, Ligety has been a vocal advocate for his fellow athletes, occasionally putting him at loggerheads with alpine skiing's governing body the FIS.
When he does call it a day, he would like to be remembered for that stance and for helping bring on his colleagues in the U.S. ski team.
"I hope that I helped pushed ski racing forward and modernise the sport in some ways and push the athlete voice forward. I hope that's kind of my legacy. But I think when you're in the midst of it, it's hard to really think about those things.
"I'm proud of what I've done with my team-mates and trying to push forward. Having guys now like Tommy Ford, who I've skied with for such a long time, and having him win World Cups last year was really cool to see. You know, somebody else taking that next step and starting to win races. And guys like Ryan Cochran-Siegle starting to be really fast across a bunch of different disciplines.
"These are guys that I've skied with for a long time, and for a long time they were the young 'uns. And now to see them step up on a higher level is really cool to see. Hopefully my last little bit I can see some more of those guys reaching that level as well."