Ted Ligety

Ted Ligety craves medals, not fame but could finish Olympic season with both

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NEW YORK — The line outside the Times Square Planet Hollywood slithered down one block and around the corner. So did the barricades.

The first few people stationed in front, with chairs and blankets, said they waited there overnight, from 3 p.m. the day before. They knew the first 300 would receive precious wristbands, the key to a guaranteed autograph.

The Olympic champion arrived, stepped out of the car and looked.

Who are they here for, he asked.

“Miley Cyrus.”

And Ted Ligety walked, unbothered, under the red canopy and through the doors for lunch at Bond 45 across the street.

It’s not surprising for a U.S. Olympian, especially a Winter Olympian, to pass unnoticed through the tourist foot traffic capital of America. Yet the entrepreneurial Ligety owns star credentials in a showcase Olympic sport that deserve the crowd-gazing attention of Shaun White or Lindsey Vonn (but not quite that of a twerking pop singer).

He doesn’t crave it, but he is already tasting fame, with plenty more on the horizon.

Ligety placed his Putnam Investments cap on the white-clothed table. He ordered a tuna burger (rare). He discussed why sponsors and PR chose him for a media tour of New York more than 100 days before the Olympics.

“It’s much bigger this year for sure,” he said, citing sponsorships with Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Citi and Proctor & Gamble and two commercials he shot during a ski trip to New Zealand, one for Vicks. “What I did at World Championships, there’s been a lot more attention on me, I guess, this time around. 

“I’ve had definitely to turn down a lot of things to really prepare on what my real job is.”

Ligety could win more medals than any other American at the Sochi Olympics. In fact, he’s predicted to.

That’s big considering the company of multiple medal threats at past Games (Marion Jones in 2000, Apolo Ohno in 2002, 2006 and 2010, Michael Phelps in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Bode Miller in 2006 and Vonn in 2010).

Ligety, 29, is set to begin the most scrutinized season of a career that began in 2004, when he was 19 (and one year younger than Cyrus today). The Alpine skiing World Cup campaign starts in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday.

Universal Sports coverage of Soelden races

Vonn and Miller have made headlines for recoveries from knee injuries, but Ligety will likely be the story in race recaps posted before the NFL pregame shows.

He’s won the season opener at this ski town along the Italian border the last two years, including by a whopping 2.75-second margin in 2012.

Even more incredible than last year’s season-opening rout was his performance at the World Championships four months later, 200 miles to the east. The blond-haired Utahn who would like to jump out of a plane, ride in a fighter jet and drive a Formula 1 car before he dies did something no skier had done in 45 years.

Ligety won three gold medals at the five-race championships in Schladming, Austria, in February. The last man to do that was French legend Jean-Claude Killy in 1968, before the sport’s leap into modern equipment, technique and specialization of elite skiers focusing on one or two events.

Ligety already won Olympic gold in the combined in 2006 and three World Cup season titles in the giant slalom, Alpine’s crucible event. Before his Schladming showcase, the narrative for his third Olympic appearance was already set — redemption.

The U.S. Ski Team collected eight medals at the 2010 Olympics, its greatest haul ever. All of the medalists made a Sports Illustrated cover titled “Fast Company.”

Ligety wasn’t on it.

He just wasn’t quick enough in Whistler, British Columbia, where his best finish in four tries was fifth in the super combined (the combined, an event with downhill run and two slalom runs, was replaced by the super combined, an event with one downhill run and one slalom run, for 2010).

“I left speed up on the hill, which was really frustrating,” Ligety said, summing up 2010, especially the giant slalom, where he was ninth. “Since then, I think I’ve been able to ski in a way where I’m happy every time I get down to the finish line with my level of intensity how I skied.

“I think back then I skied a lot of races where I was just trying to be tactically smart and not put myself into too much risk.”

Now, with that triple-gold Worlds performance, the story changes. Redemption is replaced by hype.

“I guess the (Olympic) expectations have changed a little bit based on how I did at Worlds,” Ligety said. “I knew I had very good chances at three medals, but three gold medals definitely exceeded my expectations.

“I don’t think I have those same expectations (at the Olympics). I’d love to repeat that performance, but that’s an extremely difficult performance to repeat. I realize that, and I can recognize that. I’m not setting my goal as far as repeating that. I just want to go in there and repeat my ability to ski at that level, and I want to repeat my ability to have my mental sharpness at that level. That should equal medals, but it doesn’t necessarily have to equal three gold medals in order for me to be happy.”

Ligety said giant slalom gold is the Olympic medal he would like to win above all else (he plans to ski everything but downhill). Some Olympians will say they’d be happy with one medal, and the rest is icing.

Ligety craves more.

“I think I have a really good chance in the super-G and combined,” said Ligety, who has won 17 career World Cup races, all giant slaloms. “So I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket with giant slalom, that’s for sure. I’m preparing throughout the season. I’m going to race all the (World Cup) super-Gs, all the super combineds, all the slaloms.”

There’s another reason for the busy schedule that has nothing to do with the Olympics. Ligety knows he has a hole in his résumé that no mountain of Sochi success can fill.

He’s never won the overall World Cup season title. Ligety finished third behind giant slalom rival Marcel Hirscher of Austria and super-G rival Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway this past year.

He would rather win that title in March — and the oversized crystal globe prize — than an Olympic gold medal in February.

“Because it’s a compilation of a season’s work,” Ligety said. “It’s really the mark of a true ski champion. Winning an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It shows you can really get yourself on the top level that day and push yourself. There’s a lot different things that can go into that, maybe the best guy doesn’t always win. The overall title, the best guy always wins that.”

Vonn decides if she’ll race this weekend

South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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South Korea said the rival Koreas agreed to form their first joint Olympic team and have their athletes march together during the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the Koreas reached the agreement during talks Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom.

It said athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the Opening Ceremony and will field a single women’s hockey team.

The measures require approval by the International Olympic Committee. The South Korean ministry says the two Koreas will consult with the IOC this weekend.

South Korea women’s hockey coach Sarah Murray said a joint team would be a distraction and present challenges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“I think there is damage to our players,” the Canadian said Tuesday, according to Yonhap. “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.

“This is another distraction, and we have to worry about things we can control. We can’t control this situation.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long. Teaching systems and different things … I’d have about a month to teach these (new) players the way our team plays. That makes me a little nervous.

“I hope that I am not being pressured to play (North Koreans). I am hoping we can just play the way we play and not have the influence of, ‘I need to play this player.’ I just want the best players to play. If you play your best, then you earn your ice time. Whether you’re South Korean or North Korean, they have to earn their place.”

The two Koreas marched together behind a unification flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

North Korea has no qualified athletes for the PyeongChang Olympics, but the IOC can invite athletes and could do so after this weekend’s meeting.

A pairs figure skating team qualified an Olympic quota spot for North Korea last fall, but the spot was given up after North Korea’s Olympic Committee did not accept the spot before a deadline.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Larry Nassar hears testimony at sentencing: ‘You are a repulsive liar’

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma Larry Nassar inflicted on them as children — one with the warning that “little girls don’t stay little forever.”

Nearly 100 women and girls planned to speak or have their statements read during an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing.

Many of them cried as they gave the initial testimonies Tuesday.

Some requested that their identities not be made public. The judge consoled the victims and said they should not blame themselves.

“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar,” one victim, Kyle Stephens, said to the 54-year-old Nassar who bowed his head with his eyes closed or looked away as she and others spoke.

Stephens, the first to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing.

She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it, and her parents believed him.

“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that … destroy your world.”

Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club.

He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.

“It all started with him,” she said, describing her daughter’s downward spiral into drug abuse.

Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment.

They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts and anger and anxiety on whether they should have spoken up sooner.

“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence Friday, said the system had failed them.

“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”

The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 to 125 years in prison for the 54-year-old Nassar.

The maximum represents a year for each of the 125 girls and women who filed reports of abuse with campus police. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles on Monday said she was among the athletes sexually abused by Nassar.

Another gold medalist, Aly Raisman, tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”

Olympians McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas also have said they were among Nassar’s victims as teens.

In November, he admitted to digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015.

As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.

Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced in Eaton County in two weeks.