|Ted Ligety celebrates after winning the gold medal during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships men's giant slalom on Feb. 13, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
The U.S. Ski Team came into the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail-Beaver Creek, Colorado, with the goal of winning the first gold medal on home snow in 26 years.
Ted Ligety delivered.
The king of giant slalom came from behind to become the only alpine skier ever to win three consecutive world championship giant slalom titles. He won the second run in dominant fashion, beating Austrian Marcel Hirscher by 0.45 seconds overall. Alexis Pinturault from France rounded out the podium.
Ligety joins legends Ingemar Stenmark and Kjetil Andre Aamodt as the only men to win three consecutive world championship titles — Stenmark in slalom (1978, 1980, 1982) and Aamodt in combined (1997, 1999, 2001).
In 2013, Ligety was compared to French legend Jean-Claude Killy after he, like Killy, won three gold medals at one world championships.
With this victory, 30-year-old Ligety now has seven world championship medals in his extensive trophy collection, the most of any U.S. alpine ski racer, past or present. He’s also the defending Olympic giant slalom champion.
This victory, however, was a little more emotional for Ligety. He’s been the dominant giant slalom skier in the world for the past several years (with five overall world cup giant slalom titles and an Olympic gold medal to prove it). But he has struggled this season. Of five world cup giant slalom races to date, he has only won one — on this very hill in December.
“In 2013, I was winning everything, so I felt like I should have it really easily,” Ligety said. “Same with the Olympics. I was skiing great before that and knew I should be able to win it. This one was a bigger question mark as far as how I was skiing and how I could handle it. To be able to come through and pull it off is awesome.”
On paper, rival Hirscher was the favorite. The Austrian leads the current world cup standings and has won four world cup giant slalom races this season (to Ligety’s one win). Hirscher had hoped to match Ligety’s run at the 2013 worlds, where he won three gold medals: in giant slalom, super combined and super-G. Hirscher took gold in combined and aims to win the slalom on Sunday.
Coming to Vail-Beaver Creek, Ligety knew matching those three wins from 2013 would be a difficult task. He would be lucky to take home one medal, he said, let alone three (he ended up with two after salvaging the bronze medal in combined on Sunday). Mostly, he wanted to defend his giant slalom title.
On the sun-splashed Birds of Prey course, Ligety had to come from behind to defend it. After the first run, he sat fifth, but only 0.01 off the podium. And 0.24 behind Hirscher, who led the first run.
Ligety had skied well on the top of the course in his first run, but made a couple big mistakes, especially on the flats, saying he was “almost lucky” that he stayed on the course.
But coming from behind on this course — an “arc-er’s show,” he calls it — is nothing new to the man who has redefined how giant slalom is skied. At the Beaver Creek World Cup in December, Ligety finished the first run in fourth, 0.25 out of first. A clean second run vaulted him into first.
He used the same style in this race. While other skiers chattered down the steep piste after the Golden Eagle jump, Ligety arc-ed around each gate as if he were trying to draw one thin line with his skis.
His legs, he said, were burning as he came through the Abyss, a decompression section off Golden Eagle. But he knew he would hate himself if he backed off even a hair, so he pushed through.
He crossed the finish line a second-and-a-quarter ahead of the field, with four skiers left to go. None of them could match Ligety’s clean run. When Hirscher crossed the finish line with a “2” by his name, the crowd roared.
“Ted is skiing just brilliant, especially here at Vail-Beaver Creek down Birds of Prey,” said Hirscher. “If you can win — how’s it called? Consecutive? Four times in a row giant slalom races, then you definitely feel like home on this course.”
For his part, Ligety added, “Any time you can get in front of Marcel is a good day, I’m definitely excited about that.”
Hirscher has won the past four world cup overall titles and is quickly becoming a legend in the sport and a hero in Austria.
Of the other U.S. skiers competing in the men’s giant slalom, Tim Jitloff finished ninth. Tommy Ford, in his first major race back after injury, was 19th. Rookie Brennan Rubie was 26th, and slalom specialist David Chodounsky finished 29th.
As for the fact that Ligety is also becoming a legend in ski racing, he is not one who thinks much about statistics. He’s much too humble.
“It’s cool to be able to achieve what I’ve achieved,” he said. “But I look forward to just trying to ski as hard as I can and be able to reflect on those kinds of things later.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.