Over the past couple years on the World Cup alpine skiing circuit, any time Ted Ligety stepped into the start house at a giant slalom race, everybody else was competing for second place. Last season he won six GS races, some by ridiculous margins, en route to his fourth World Cup GS championship. In winning a gold medal in Sochi on Wednesday, he merely put an Olympic stamp on his reign.
Ligety, aka Ligety Split and Ted Shred, built up another huge lead in the first run of this two-run, total-combined time event, distancing the field by 0.93 seconds. It was like having a half-lap lead in a two-lap race. He could have fallen down the hill in the second run and still claimed gold. And as it turned out, Ligety had a bumpy ride that cost him a lot of time. But his cushion still allowed him to win the event by .48 seconds—or about 14 feet as measured by the New York Times—over silver medal winner Steve Missillier of France. This in a race where the winning margin is typically less than a ski length. Another Frenchman, Alexis Pinturault took bronze.
The gold took the heat off of Ligety, who admitted that he “choked” in the Super G, where he was one of the favorites, but skied too conservatively. And he’s been pointing to GS in particular for four years, after coming up empty at the Vancouver games. “Being the favorite in alpine skiing is never easy, because it’s an event that’s so far from being guaranteed and not an event that’s super simple to win even if you’re skiing the best in the world,” he said. “There are so many different factors out there. It’s really easy to go out of the course. It’s really easy for conditions to not match up to your technique.”
And Ligety’s technique is unique. He skis low to the snow, his hips and shoulders nearly touching on the turns. “He’s able to really gain speed by skiing low and absorbing the compression of the hill better than anybody,” U.S. Ski Team official Mike Jacquet said.
He’s also the strongest skier out there, which means he can transform that compression into tighter turns and greater speed.
Ligety has one more shot at a medal, in the slalom, where he won’t be a favorite—and where an ailing Bode Miller won’t ski—but for the first time in these Olympics, he can relax. “I’ve been wanting to win this medal for my whole life and even more so in the last few years,” he said afterward. “All season long everybody talks about the Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. … At a certain point I was like, ‘Let’s do it already.’”
And he did.