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Back From Wrist Injury, Two-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Ted Ligety’s Shares His Alpine Racing Plans

By Peggy Shinn | Oct. 12, 2020, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

Ted Ligety competes during run 1 of the Audi FIS alpine ski world cup men's giant slalom on Feb. 2, 2020 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. 

 

For Ted Ligety’s 289,000 Instagram followers, his 3-year-old son Jax occasionally steals the show. 

“Faster!” Jax urged dad as they mountain biked around Park City, Utah, this summer, Jax in a front-mounted kid’s bike seat, front-and-center on Ligety’s GoPro selfie videos.

Or “I saw a snake!,” Jax enthusiastically announced on a recent gravel ride, which started a conversation with dad about garter snakes.

“We bike a lot in the summertime,” said Ligety by phone from Austria. “We can go out for two hours. It’s nice to be able to get a workout in and entertain him, and he entertains me.”

In a couple more years, Jax will likely share the GoPro star role with fraternal twin brothers, Alec and Will, who were born in mid-July—shortly after Ligety broke his wrist mountain biking (fortunately, without Jax along for the ride).

“Advice to men with pregnant wives,” he posted on Instagram, along with GoPro action of his ill-fated descent through the Utah birches. “Don’t get hurt 2 days before the due date.”

Ligety’s wrist is fully healed, and he has been in Austria preparing for the Soelden World Cup giant slalom race, the first alpine world cup on the 2020/2021 calendar. 

It will be the twelfth time that 36-year-old Ligety has raced at Soelden. The man dubbed “Mr. GS”—for his long dominance of giant slalom, including the 2014 Olympic gold medal in the event, three world championship GS titles, and five GS world cup globes—has won the Soelden GS four times and finished on the podium seven times.

He also holds an Olympic gold medal from the combined at the 2006 Games, and seven total world championship medals—the most for American men. 

His last podium finish in Soelden was a win in 2015.

Since then, Ligety has had knee surgery (January 2016—the first of his long career) and a year later, a microdiscectomy on his back. Return to his dominant form—when he won GS races by huge margins—has taken time. He has only finished on the world cup podium once since his back surgery. And at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang, he did not defend his giant slalom title; his best result was fifth in combined.

Last season, Ligety finished fifth at the Soelden World Cup—a sign that he is nearing his former level.

“My body is feeling pretty good,” he said. “This year and last year, I feel like I’ve crossed a bridge as far as getting my back to a place where it’s sustainable and not hindering me on a daily basis. I’m 36. I don’t feel like I did when I was 25 anymore, that’s for sure.”

He added wryly, “But I can put my socks on in the morning, which is an improvement versus a few years ago.”

Ligety raced mostly giant slaloms last year on the world cup tour. He plans to do the same this winter.

I’m still out here because I still feel like I have that podium and winning potential. We’ll see. Hopefully that’s the case.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all North American alpine world cup races have been canceled, so the tour will remain in Europe, with 10 giant slaloms on the 2020/2021 world cup schedule, plus world cup finals. Ligety plans to travel back and forth between home and Europe, allowing time for quarantining and testing.

Ligety’s wife Mia and their three boys will not accompany him this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and the inconvenience and stress of traveling with young children.

He would also like to race the World Pro Ski Tour if the schedule works with his world cup breaks. The pro tour schedule has not yet been released, but the organization aims to host up to eight races in the U.S. this winter. Ligety competed in two pro tour races last season.

“I think what the World Pro Ski Tour is doing is cool,” he said. “It’s great to have elite-level ski racing going on in America, especially in a year like this when we don’t have any world cups going on here.”

Ligety plans to compete through the 2022 Olympic Winter Games Beijing. Should he qualify, it will be his fifth Olympic Games. And should he win a medal, he would become the oldest Olympic medalist in alpine skiing, beating former teammate Bode Miller by over a year (Miller won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games at age 36).

“I don’t see a scenario where I go beyond [the 2022 Olympic Winter Games],” Ligety stated. “So that will probably be it.”

After 2022, Ligety will be far from retired. He is co-founder of Shred Optics, a successful eyewear and protective equipment manufacturer (helmets, etc.) that is finding its way during the pandemic thanks in part to an uptick in mountain biking this summer.

Coming on fast in Ligety’s tracks are other U.S. skiers who could also finish on the podium in Soelden—and many other world cups this year. Tommy Ford scored his first world cup giant slalom win last season, plus one other podium finish, and Ford, Ligety, and Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished 4-5-11 at the Soelden World Cup last season.

“It’s cool to see Tommy establish himself as one of the best giant slalom skiers in the world,” said Ligety. “And Ryan is one of the best three-event skiers in the world. It’s cool to see those guys step into their own.”

Ligety has also been training with younger members of the U.S. men’s team, including 2018 junior world super-G bronze medalist Luke Winters and 2019 junior world giant slalom and super-G champion River Radamus.

“It’s good having the younger guys around in training to help push and challenge you,” he said. “I feel like it helps keep me young too, being around the young 20-year-olds.”

Ligety isn’t ready to concede the GS podium quite yet. But given that he was only on-snow for a shorter amount of time than usual this summer (due to COVID-19 travel restrictions), he is realistic.

“Being on the podium would definitely be a goal, this hill has treated me well,” he said. “So we’ll see. It’s always hard to say when you haven’t had a ton of miles and haven’t been training with some other teams.

“I’m still out here because I still feel like I have that podium and winning potential. We’ll see. Hopefully that’s the case.”

Peggy Shinn

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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