Manfred Moelgg

Ligety: first to three

Ted Ligety didn't just win the giant slalom Friday at the alpine skiing world championships. He crushed it. Which means that in the way Lindsey Vonn was the It Girl before the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Bode Miller the It Dude before Torino in 2006 -- America, you are going to be seeing a lot, and then a lot more, of Ted Ligety before Sochi next February.

Ligety's victory made for his third win at the worlds at Schladming, Austria. He already had won the super-G and the super-combined events.

He became the first man to win three titles in a single worlds since the legendary Jean-Claude Killy of France won four in 1968, when the Olympic Games counted as the worlds.

That's 45 years.

Ted Ligety skiing to victory Friday in the giant slalom at the alpine world championships in Schladming, Austria // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

Ligety is the first American skier to win three medals at a single worlds. He is the first non-European to do so.

His four career golds match Miller for most by a U.S. skier.

He is the first skier -- male or female -- to win the super-G, super-combined and giant slalom at a single world championship.

He became the seventh man to win the giant slalom at two worlds, and the sixth back-to-back.

All of this means a great deal, and at the same time very little, come Sochi.

It means Ligety, 28, of Park City, Utah, rocks.

Ligety is already an Olympic gold medalist. He won the combined in Torino.

To be hugely obvious, he is now more mature, smarter, better, totally on his game, and barring injury he will be a medal favorite in Sochi in the giant slalom, and perhaps other events as well.

But, because alpine racing is enormously variable, with course conditions, the course set, the light and more, it could all slip away -- literally -- in an instant.

He acknowledged as much Friday, saying, "Ski racing is such a tough sport. In a way -- it's hard to really replicate these kinds of wins. You've seen Lindsey. She was by far the favorite -- won a gold medal, for sure," in the Vancouver downhill.

"She had the ability to win far more. That's just the tough thing about ski racing. It's so far from guaranteed. It's not like running -- all you have to do is run. Or swimming. There are so many more variables than that. It's just so hard to replicate good performances. The hill changes every single guy. So it's not so easy."

Ligety in Schladming on his victory tour // photo courtesy Mitchell Gunn ESPA and U.S. Ski Team

Ligety said he is well aware that, for an American audience, he will now be The Guy heading toward Sochi.

"I don't know what it's going to be like," he said, adding in a reference to Vonn before Vancouver and Miller pre-Torino, "I know they had a lot of external pressures, a lot of things they had to go through for being the favorite -- we'll see how that goes. Hopefully, it doesn't take too much out of my summer. It should be fun."

Sochi will be Ligety's third Games. He said, "I'm always looking forward to the Olympics. It's a really cool experience. This has definitely set the bar high. I don't know if this is repeatable," adding the thing was to "maintain the same level of skiing and give myself good chances there."

Ligety admitted to feeling nerves before Friday's racing.

If so, it didn't show.

The giant slalom is a two-race affair.

In the first piece, Ligety went out and built a lead of 1.31 seconds.

In alpine racing, 1.31 seconds is huge.

In the second run, Ligety's primary rival, Austria's Marcel Hirscher, went out and threw the huge crowd -- more than 35,000 people -- into a roar by moving into contention.

"Running 30th," Ligety said, "it was really bumpy in that second run, and the light was pretty flat," adding, "I had to charge. I was making mistakes," including one that almost sent him, his left ski flying, off the course. "But that's part of ski racing. I had to charge through that. I was glad I had that buffer I did after that first race."

Ligety's combined winning time: 2 minutes, 28.92 seconds.

Hirscher finished 81-hundredths back. At one point, Ligety had increased that 1.31-second lead to 1.68, then slowed to make sure he got to the finish in one piece.

Manfred Moelgg of Italy finished third, 1.75 seconds behind.

Tenth place was another second back. Twelfth place was more than full three seconds back of first. In alpine racing, these sorts of differentials are ridiculous.

"This week has been the best week of ski racing in my life," Ligety told a news conference. "I still don't think I have recognized what I have done so far this week. It has been so phenomenal."


Ted Ligety's "once-in-a-career" giant slalom victory

Alpine ski race wins usually come by the hundredths of a second. Ted Ligety won the opening World Cup race of the 2012-13 season Sunday on the famous Rettenbach Glacier in Sölden, Austria, by a crazy 2.75 seconds.

It was, as he put it afterward, a "once-in-a-career margin."

It was also a demonstration of, as U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick put it, Ligety's "complete ability and confidence in himself."

Even on the best days, there is nothing inherently fair about alpine racing. And conditions Sunday were, in a word, godawful. "It was a tough day for everybody," Ligety said, adding, "I just fought and maybe took more risk than it was worth - than was maybe smart."

That's just modesty talking -- the guy from Park City, Utah, who posed for photos after the race with his parents.

Ligety is the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the combined. He is a three-time World Cup season giant slalom champion.

He won in Sölden last year. Indeed, his most recent finishes there had read like this: 2-3-2-1.

But this was not only a new season. Everyone had to ski on new -- different -- skis. Rules changes mandated skis that were, to reduce a complex situation to its basics, a little bit longer but narrower skis designed to slow racers down.

Ligety was originally one of the most vocal opponents of the rules change.

Indeed, a blog he wrote last November decrying the change was entitled "Tyranny of FIS," the acronym a reference to skiing's international governing body. He remains a vocal proponent of athlete input into rules changes.

FIS officials have said many times they believe the rules changes will make the skiing safer.

By last February, meanwhile, after testing the new skis, Ligety discovered he was actually faster on them than the old ones. He called a blog he wrote then, in a reference to the new skis' minimum radius, "35 meters of irony."

Shortly before racing got underway at Sölden, in a video blog posted by American teammate Warner Nickerson, Ligety confirmed that, yes, he was in fact faster on the new skis in most GS conditions.

No one, however, counted on a set of variables like what race day Sunday brought: soft snow, variable light and a blizzard.

The GS consists of two runs. The winner is the guy with the day's lowest combined time.

Ligety ran his first run in near-darkness. He crossed four-hundredths of a second behind France's Thomas Fanara.

That, Ligety said afterward, "just fired me up," adding, "I knew I should have been in the lead."

He skied his second run in a virtual whiteout, the blizzard raging. He said, "I was just taking a ton of risk," adding, "It really paid out," the biggest margin of victory in a World Cup GS in 34 years. Manfred Moelgg of Italy took second; Austria's Marcel Hirscher, last season's overall and GS tour champion, third. Fanara came in fourth.

FIS records show that the time difference between the winner and second place in a World Cup GS has only been bigger six times before -- and all those in the 1970s. The biggest margin: 4.06 seconds, set by Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark in the 1978-79 season.

"I'm psyched," Ligety said after the second run. "I didn't want to leave anything out there. I was hammering!"

It's only one race in a long season.

But it went a long way toward re-establishing Ligety as the best GS skier in the world. Because it's not just that Ligety won, and by such a commanding margin. It's that he did it in such absurd conditions, and that he created that margin almost entirely in a single run.

"Ted's arguments he had on the skis were his own opinions but a lot of people agreed," Rearick said. "He's a vocal person and that showed in his arguments against the skis. But once he figured out this is what it is, he put all that energy, all that focus into making sure he was going to be the fastest and that he wasn't going to lose."

Hirscher asked rhetorically, "What can I say about the incredible Ted Ligety?

"Right now," Hirscher -- a local hero in Sölden -- said in quotes posted on the website, "he is far away from me … he is in outer space. He skied awesome. He skied every gate perfect."