Ligety becomes first USA man to win two gold medals in alpine skiing
KRASNAYA POLYANA - In the process of winning gold in the giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games on Wednesday afternoon, Ted LIGETY (USA) not only cemented his reputation as one of the best giant slalom skiers in history, but also continued his quiet revolution of the technique required to succeed in the event.
The 29-year-old has now won the last three major international giant slalom races, adding Olympic gold to his world championship triumphs in 2011 and 2013. Having earned an advantage of 0.93 seconds on the field in the morning's first run, LIGETY was able to ski within himself, avoiding risks to finish 0.48 seconds ahead of surprise silver medallist Steve MISSILLIER (FRA).
Alexis PINTURAULT (FRA) won a second medal for France, finishing third in 2 minutes and 45.93 seconds.
"I feel really lucky I had such a good first run because I didn't have to take all the risks in the second run," said LIGETY, who is the first male USA skier to win two Olympic gold medals, adding the giant slalom gold to his combined triumph at the Torino 2006 Games.
"This is the event I wanted the most," he said. "This is the event I have been putting so much pressure on myself to win, so to pull through is an awesome feeling."
The dominance he has shown in the giant slalom since the Vancouver 2010 Games is likely to be one of the principal reasons that the USA skier has been feeling such pressure to perform. LIGETY has won 15 out of the 31 world cup giant slalom races since finishing ninth in the 2010 Games. In that time he has topped the season-ending world cup standings twice and never finished out of the top three.
"There is no question who the best GS skier in the world is," said six-time Olympic medallist Bode MILLER (USA) of his teammate, after finishing in 20th position in the giant slalom.
"He's got a very good physical makeup for skiing and his head is strong. He kind of has it all. He's really got the complete package."
LIGETY's technique in the giant slalom has generated much discussion in the past 12 months. He stays lower and longer in each turn than many of his competitors, his skis forming an almost 90-degree angle with the snow before they bend and catapult him forwards. Current leader of the world cup giant slalom standings, Marcel HIRSCHER (AUT) is one of those that has talked about adopting a similar technique.
The perception that HIRSCHER and others were fighting for second place from the start was borne out.
MISSILLIER's lightning second run catapulted him from 10th after the morning run into second and added another name to the list of surprise medallists in alpine skiing at the 2014 Games. The 29-year-old has never finished on the podium in a world cup giant slalom race and currently lies 16th in the 2013/14 standings. His silver medal is an improvement of 11 places on his performance in the 2010 Games.
"I never thought I could do this. This is a beautiful day for the French team," said MISSILLIER.
Beautiful indeed, as France won a silver and bronze double for the first time in Olympic giant slalom history. The only surprise about PINTURAULT's medal was its colour. The 22-year-old has improved swiftly since finishing fifth in the 2013 giant slalom world championship. He won his first world cup race last season and has finished in the top five in all six races this time around, taking a podium spot three times.
LIGETY's long-time rival HIRSCHER had a tough day. The winner of three giant slalom world cup races this season had a poor first run and despite an improvement, he could only finish, agonisingly, in fourth.
"I am really pissed off. It was the biggest chance for a medal in my whole career," said HIRSCHER.
More worrying for the 2013 slalom world champion was his assessment of his chances of avenging his disappointment in Saturday's slalom.
"I have no big hopes, if I do not get well on this course, I do not think it is going to go well."