BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Ted Ligety is going all-out this season in his quest to become the first American man to win an FIS Alpine Ski World Cup overall title since Bode Miller in 2008. And so far, that title is within reach.
Ligety, whose best overall finish was fifth in 2008, won the second giant slalom race of the season Sunday at Birds of Prey, the only World Cup stop in the United States. On Saturday, he finished fourth in super G, just four hundredths from the podium.
Following a win in the first giant slalom race of the season in October in Soelden, Austria, and a fourth-place finish in last weekend’s super G race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Ligety is now solidly in second place in the overall World Cup standings, behind Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. He also sits first in the giant slalom standings and third in super G.
“Winning overall has been a big goal of mine since I started ski racing altogether,” said Ligety, a 2006 Olympic gold medalist in combined who also has three World Cup giant slalom titles to his name. “I think it’s attainable. … I feel if I keep this momentum going I have a decent chance unless somebody like (Svindal) gets on a hot streak and continues on a hot streak.”
Svindal, who has three Olympic medals and two overall World Cup titles to his name, has earned two gold, two silver and one bronze medal so far this season. But he knows there are several men in the fight for the overall title, including Ligety.
“Ted could come in and give us a fight for overall,” Svindal admitted after Saturday’s super G race.
Sunday’s win marked Ligety’s 13th career World Cup giant slalom win. He held a 0.78 second lead after the first run, a margin he described as a “mystery” since he didn’t think he skied very well. After the second run, it was no mystery to the record crowd that Ligety deserved to win. He had the best time of that run as well to claim a 1.76-second victory over silver medalist Marcel Hirscher. Afterward, the Austrian said Ligety is so dominant right now that “he should ski two or three gates more than everyone else.”
“This hill has a lot of rolls and it’s always tricky tactically,” Ligety said. “I think that’s something that maybe I’m getting a little better at. It was never really my specialty to ski tactics before; I just went hard and if I made mistakes I made them, but I think this year I’ve been able to get a little better at the tactics side of things.”
Ligety is also making notable improvements in the super G, which is helping him in his quest for the overall World Cup title. Prior to this season, Ligety only had one top-four finish in the event; this year he already has two.
“He’s obviously worked more on his super G but he’s a good skier and good skiers also have the tendency to ski fast in all events,” Svindal said of Ligety’s rising status in super G.
Ligety credits his dominance this season to how well the new giant slalom skis suit him. This season, giant slalom skiers are required to wear longer, straighter skis than they have in the past.
“I think they definitely play to my skiing style,” he said. “I have a smoother transition than most guys and arc more of the top of the turn than most guys, so I’m able to get them around quicker and also I get bigger angles than most people.”
Since the FIS first announced the ski regulations in 2011, Ligety has been perhaps the most outspoken critic, writing in a blog that the new skis will have a “negative effect” on younger skiers. While he has figured out how to make the new skis work to his advantage, Ligety says he is still against them.
“I’m still very much against how the rule came about,” Ligety said. “I’m still against the rule as far as I don’t think it’s a good progression of the sport. It makes the sport a little less fun for us to ski on.”
Recent U.S. coaching changes this season have also helped Ligety and the rest of the team so far this season. In May, the U.S. Ski Team announced the addition of Andreas Evers as head coach of the men’s speed program, Bernd Brunner as head coach of the World Cup B training group and TJ Lanning as assistant coach for the men’s speed team. In addition to Ligety’s success, American Marco Sullivan earned downhill bronze last week in Lake Louise and Travis Ganong finished first in a downhill training run in Beaver Creek.
“I think the coaches really help,” Ligety said. “I think (Evers) is definitely doing a great job with the team.
“This year we’ve changed the format where we have TJ in the start for speed races, where he was (competing) in the World Cup only a couple years ago, so I think that helps. He can filter out the course and, on the tech side, we have Dane (Spencer, giant slalom coach) at the start, who was also a good World Cup racer. And so they know what we want to hear, and they’re good at filtering out the information and giving us reports.”
The U.S. team leaves Monday for the next World Cup stop in Val d’Isere, France and will spend the next few months traversing the slopes of Europe for the bulk of the World Cup circuit. As far as farewell parties go, Ligety could not have asked for a better one.
“This hill has always treated me well and it’s a fun place to race,” he said. “I have a lot of friends and family here and it’s just cool to race on home soil because that’s something we don’t really get to do.”