Ted Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah laid down a truly Olympic performance Wednesday to earn the first-ever giant slalom gold medal for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games near Sochi, Russia.
Ligety led by 0.93 seconds after his first run at the sunny Rosa Khutor venue, where he was able to become the second American in history to win two alpine gold medals after Andrea Mead Lawrence in 1952. He followed his 1:21.08 fastest first run with an 11th-best second run for 2:45.29.
France filled out the podium with Steve Missillier (2:45.77, 0.48 seconds back) earning silver and Alexis Pinturault (1:23.49) the bronze.
The 2006 Olympic combined gold medalist in Italy, the 5-11, 190-pound Ligety has since won four world championships and is a four-time World Cup giant slalom king. Until today, however, Ligety didn’t have much to brag about in his giant slalom specialty in the Olympics.
He DNFd the giant slalom at Torino in 2006 and was ninth in the Vancouver giant slalom in 2010. When he did win his Olympic gold medal in combined eight years ago, Ligety at 21 became the youngest American male skier to win Olympic gold in any alpine ski racing event.
Andrea Mead Lawrence won gold in slalom and giant slalom at Oslo, Norway in 1952, 62 years ago.
Ligety told the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association News Bureau afterward, “Today was awesome. There’s not really any other way to put it. This is something I’ve been working for since I was a little kid. Being the favorite in alpine skiing is never easy, because it’s an event that’s so far from being guaranteed and not an event that’s super simple to win even if you’re skiing the best in the world.
“There are so many different factors out there. It’s really easy to go out of the course. It’s really easy for conditions to not match up to your technique. So to be able to win today when I knew that I had a very good chance and knew the pressures of it was an awesome feeling.
“This one is way more meaningful than my first one. I’m not going to say my first gold medal was easy, but it came a lot easier. There were a lot less struggles of the World Cup and struggles of the grind that I hadn’t experienced up to that point.
“To win a gold medal now, especially having Vancouver being really tough and the Olympics so far here have been somewhat lackluster, and to be able to throw down in an event that I had the most pressure in and I was the favorite in, to be able to do that is awesome. This was really the event that I wanted to win. To be able to pull down in that kind of pressure and to be up there with some of the greats is really an honor.
“It was a huge relief. I’ve been wanting to win this medal for my whole life and even more so in the last few years. All season long everybody talks about the Olympics, Olympics, Olympics…at a certain point I was like, ‘Let’s do it already. Let’s just get this thing over with so we can stop talking about the pressure and everything with it.’ So it’s awesome to be able to come here and compete and finally do it and get the monkey off the back.”
Ligety was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sportsman of the Year in 2013 after winning three gold medals in the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Alpine Ski Championships at Schladming, Aust.
Prior to today, Ligety’s efforts in two previous 2014 Olympic races were 12th in the men’s super combined Feb. 14 and 14th place in the men’s super giant slalom Feb. 16. Andrew Weibrecht’s silver medal in the SG and Bode Miller’s bronze in the same event Feb. 16 were the only U.S. men’s alpine medals before Ligety blew everyone away today.
Tim Jitloff of Reno, Nev. muscled through the challenging giant slalom course to finish 15th in his very first Olympic appearance, while Jared Goldberg of Holladay, Utah skied into 19th. Sochi super G bronze medalist Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H. finished 20th of the 72 two-run GS finishers.
Next, World Champion Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, of Eagle-Vail, Co. and the women battle for the Olympic slalom title today, Friday, Feb. 21.