Ted Ligety’s middle name is “Sharp” and he was just that in his two giant slalom runs in Sochi on Wednesday.
Favored headed into the penultimate men’s alpine event, Ligety justified that label in his very first run, establishing a huge one-second lead that was insurmountable on Sochi slopes that have proven slow through the first two weeks of competition. With his victory, Ligety became the first U.S. alpine skier in history to win two gold medals.
It had been a disappointing Olympics for Ligety through Wednesday morning. After somewhat unexpectedly winning gold in the 2006 Games super combined competition, he failed to medal in 2010 in Vancouver despite high expectations and had placed no better than 12th in Sochi before his breakout performance in giant slalom. But breakout he did, coasting to gold on his substantial first-run lead.
Ligety has drawn attention for all the right reasons lately. He owns and runs Shred, an optics and skiing apparel company that he cofounded and that features striking colors and designs he says have helped liven up a more traditionally understated alpine sport. He also has a unique approach to skiing, arcing his turns so hard that his hips nearly hit the snow, and linking them together in such a way as to shave time off runs that many other skiers only dream of. That approach has been vetted through his recent World Cup performances, with four giant slalom championships in the last six years, and two world championships in the event in 2011 and 2013.
Ligety carried a ton of momentum into Sochi from those victories but it seemed to stall a bit in the super combined (he finished 12th) and super-g (14th). He watched as fellow American skiers Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller took silver and bronze in Sunday’s super-g, and joined a relatively large crowd of American Olympic favorites who had failed to fully meet their lofty expectations.
But the man with the wide smile and the serious style finally got to look down at the field from atop the podium on Wednesday morning, and it’s tough not to be happy for him. Ever the Instagram aficionado, Ligety’s fans fêted him properly with more than 14,000 likes and counting on his victory post.
Frenchmen Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault joined Ligety on the podium, each about a half-second behind him in the final tally. It was a good result for Pinturault, another event favorite, who hadn’t medaled in Sochi to that point. Bode Miller, the most decorated American skier of all-time, followed up his bronze medal on Sunday by tweaking his knee while finishing 20th. It likely marked the end of an historic Olympic career for Miller, at 36 the oldest alpine skier ever to medal, who later tweeted that he would likely miss Saturday’s slalom event, the final alpine skiing competition of the Games.