PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – It didn’t seem like old times for Ted Ligety on Sunday.
On the hill where he won the first of his 25 world cup titles back in 2006, Ligety inexplicably could not find the speed to contend for his second straight Olympic giant slalom gold medal.
Ligety, a four-time Olympian, tied for 15th at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Today was just a really off day,” said Ligety “a really bad day and time to not ski up to the level I wanted to. I don’t have a good excuse.”
Ligety, who was fifth in the combined five days earlier, wasn’t even the fastest American.
That honor belonged to Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the son of Olympic gold medalist Barbara Ann Cochran and the sixth Olympian in his family. He had the third-fastest second run to pull himself from 21st place into a tie for 11th with Erik Read of Canada, whose father, Ken, was a two-time Olympian in alpine skiing.
Ligety, 33, was fresh off his gold medal in the combined in 2006 when he won at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre.
Coming into the 2018 Games, Ligety thought the hill suited him – with a couple of big rolls and arcable terrain that reminded him of where he grew up in Utah. But Ligety stressed that he hadn’t competed on it in 12 years.
As the sun shone brightly on flag-waving fans, Marcel Hirscher of Austria, the pre-race favorite and eventual gold medalist, skied fifth, posting a first-run time of 1 minute, 8.27 seconds.
Ligety wore Bib 9. His time was .30 behind at the first split, which increased to 1.11 at the second and 1.90 at the third before clocking 1:10.71 for 20th place.
“I was really surprised when I saw the time,” said Ligety, who won three straight world championship titles in giant slalom. “It didn’t feel like I crushed it, but it didn’t feel two and a half seconds back.”
He said he had no explanation for why he didn’t attack the way he should have.
“I just thought it would run a little bit more challenging than maybe it did,” Ligety said. “That first run was purely me not having the right approach and going hard enough and going straight and clean enough. That’s all on me. Nothing to blame but myself for that first run.”
Better Second Runs
For the second run, Ligety started 11th and his time was 14th best at 1:10.54 for a total of 2:21.25.
“The second run was a mini-step in the right direction, but not anywhere close to the giant leap I needed to do anything,” Ligety said. “I tried to step it up a little bit more, but just didn’t have the speed in the legs today. So, that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Ligety, the only U.S. men’s alpine skier with two Olympic gold medals, was already wearing his jacket and backpack with his ski boots attached when the top eight skiers took their turns.
“Four years ago, I was the favorite to win and that’s definitely a different level of pressure than here,” Ligety said. “Here I was a medal contender, but not the overwhelming favorite like Hirscher is.”
Ligety has a couple of post-Games world cups to “try to hit the reset button and redeem my season a little bit,” he said, “but today would have definitely been a nice day to be at the top level.”
He’s not ruling out another Olympic try.
“I’ll be 37 years old and that’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Ligety said. “We’ll see. I hope to keep skiing at a high level and get back to where I can and should be, who knows if that’s in four years of if I have a couple of years left.”
He also emphasized that there’s more to skiing than just the Olympic Games, and more to life than just skiing.
Ligety’s wife Mia and 7-month-old son Jax were among the spectators Sunday, along with other members of his family.
“it’s been cool to see them and have them here,” Ligety said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to perform at a high level of them, but Jax is 7 months old. He doesn’t really care, so that will be my reprieve for the day.”
Latest “Skiing Cochrans” Olympian
Jax’s sometime babysitter, Cochran-Siegle, was the best of the rest of the Americans. Tommy Ford, who previously competed at the 2010 Games, finished 20th and Tim Jitloff, who competed in Sochi, crashed on the first run.
Cochran-Siegle, whose family is known as the “Skiing Cochrans” had a time of 1:10.75 on the first run, but improved to 1:09.99 on the second.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “The course set was a little bit more suited to my style of skiing, so I thought I saw some good lines where I could take advantage of that.”
Cochran-Siegle said the snow responded well and he benefitted by running earlier, in 10th position instead of 36th like on the first run. Plus, he knew the hill better and was “just trying to push myself.”
For the first time in his career, Cochran-Siegle stood in the leader’s box.
“It was a good place to do it,” he said.
He knew it wouldn’t last, “that the top guys were so far ahead after the first run,” he said, “but I was just enjoying the moment. It was cool to be on TV that much.”
Cochran-Siegle stayed in the box through Ligety’s run and three others, then was joined by Read. They both held on through three more racers.
Back home in Vermont, his family must have been beside itself. Cochran-Siegle said his mother “just said to have fun, enjoy it. No pressure.”
And did he follow her instructions? “I definitely have,” he said. “I’ve had a great time and I’m incredibly thankful to be here. It’s definitely a special place. It’s nice to be here.”
Cochran-Siegle said that with the 14-hour time difference and races taking place in the morning or early afternoon, “I heard one of the days when it was kind of iffy we would start on time, she was debating if she’d watch it with my aunts and uncle or if she’d stay at home and watch it on her computer in her pajamas.”
Cochran-Siegle was also 14th in super-G, tied for 23rd in downhill and skied out in combined.
He is truly a member of the next generation for U.S. skiing.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I think you can’t really fathom what it’s like until you get here, so opening ceremonies were amazing to be there and I think all the events I’ve run so far have been a lot of fun, even the combined. I think I learned a lot from that even though I skied out and didn’t finish.”
Cochran-Siegle, 25, hopes this won’t be his last Games.
“I’m privileged to be here,” he said. “And I look forward to working hard to be there in 2022 as well.”