Sochi Olympics Alpine Skiing Men

Ted Ligety carved his place in Olympic history

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A couple years ago, they made a rules change in the giant slalom. Citing the interest of athlete safety, they made the skiers change to longer, straighter skis.

Those skis are way harder to turn. Ted Ligety, the American who had ruled the giant slalom, complained bitterly.

And then he figured out a way to ski on those new skis, lower and longer in the turns, that further separated himself from everyone else in the world. He could now win races by astonishing margins.

At Wednesday’s men’s super-G at Rosa Khutor, Ligety put on a clinic to win the first American Alpine skiing gold of these Olympics. Indeed, he won big. It was one of the great moments of the 2014 Games. Here, for the entire world to bear witness, was sheer excellence — the excellence the sport demands as well as the excellence the man demands of himself.

VIDEO: Watch Ted Ligety’s giant slalom run

It was, in a word, awesome.

It also marked a profound moment in U.S. ski history — past, present and future.

Bode Miller announced after the race that his knees are bothering him and he is done at these Olympics; he will not ski Saturday’s slalom. He said, however, he intends to finish out the season. Miller is 36. There can be no question that — whatever Miller’s future — Ligety, 29, is now positioned to be The Man on the U.S. Ski Team.

“He carries so much speed and just doesn’t really make mistakes. Those are the things that separate him,” Miller said when asked to describe Ligety’s GS skiing.

“Other guys carry speed for a couple turns. They struggle a little bit. He just carries it smooth, top to bottom. He consistently puts time on guys the whole way down. He’s not doing a miracle in one section. He just pulls time on top, pulls more time in the middle, pulls more time on the bottom. There’s no question who is the best GS skier right now.”

Ligety now has two Olympic gold medals. His first came in the combined in Torino in 2006. He and Andrea Mead Lawrence, who won the slalom and the GS in Oslo in 1952, are now the only two American skiers with two Olympic gold medals in Alpine.

VIDEO: Ligety’s road to giant slalom gold

Ligety is the first man in Olympic history — no matter the country — to have won gold in giant slalom and the combined. Not Hermann Maier, Toni Sailer, Jean-Claude Killy, Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Lasse Kjus, or anyone else you might name.

You can bet this first Olympic GS gold for an American male skier is a big deal for the U.S. Ski Team program — there are potential donors and board members who flew all the way here through this weekend, ignoring all the controversies, just to see Ligety and 18-year-old sensation Mikaela Shiffrin. Ligety held up his end of the deal. Shiffrin, the world slalom champ, finished fifth Tuesday in the women’s GS, not her best event. She goes Friday in the slalom.

If development doesn’t seem all that sexy, consider this: Ligety and a few others on the U.S. team have trained here, on this very hill, a total of two weeks over the past two years. One particular turn on the second run gave a number of the racers fits. The first time Ligety trained here, he took five runs. And, as he said, “I didn’t finish a single one of my five runs because I was trying to take all the speed off that. So I knew how big a jump that was and how critical that was to the course.“

The medal Wednesday also means the U.S. Alpine team has won four medals in Sochi. One more ties for the second-best performance ever (the 1984 team). The 2010 team won eight — far and away best-ever.

Another slice of history: it was precisely 30 years ago — Feb. 19, 1984 — that Phil Mahre won gold in the slalom in Sarajevo, brother Steve taking silver.

VIDEO: Ted Ligety, 1-on-1

Because of the 2006 gold, it wasn’t so much that Ligety came to Sochi with the burden of having to prove himself at an Olympics. Moreover, he has ruled giant slalom for seven seasons. Beyond which, at last year’s World Championships, he won three golds — in the GS, super-G and super-combined, the first man to win three world golds since Killy in 1968.

The expectation here, though, was simple: in the United States, people tend to pay attention to Alpine skiing in a big way once every four years.

Welcome back to the Olympics, Mr. Ligety.

“In some kind of way,” said Bill Marolt, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Ligety “needed this gold medal here to confirm all that he has done.”

“It creates a lot of pressure, but on the other hand it creates a lot of opportunity. The thing neat about Ted,” Marolt said, “is that he has this unbelievable ability to focus and, in the moment, grab the whole prize. He just represents all that we believe in — get in unbelievable shape physically, work like hell and stay in the moment. It was awesome to be part of.”

Earlier at these Games, Ligety had a shot at a medal in the super-combined but uncharacteristically did not ski aggressively; he finished 12th. A few days later in the super-G, he took 14th.

WATCH: Ted Ligety peaking at right time in Sochi

“The combined was definitely a huge disappointment, mostly because I knew I could have skied a lot faster,” Ligety said, adding that in the super-G he skied “great” but simply made a mistake. “That’s frustrating but at least I knew I was skiing fast. I’ve known coming in here my GS was in a good spot. I’m happy to be able to ski the way I know how to ski.”

The women’s giant slalom Monday was messy — rain, snow, sleet, fog. Conditions Wednesday morning were perfect — bright, blue skies with the snow icy, just the way racers like it. It was exactly 32 degrees at race time, the snow exactly 32, too.

Ligety further had the decided advantage of going No. 7 Tuesday morning in Run 1, after his main rivals, France’s Alexis Pinturault and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher.

Pinturault went No. 1, finishing in 1:22.4; Hirscher No. 3, 1:22.47.

Ligety then put down a run of incredible aesthetic and athletic grace and power. A slow-motion camera would show his body perfectly in alignment with the mountain as he weaved through the gates.

The plan, he said, was to “really just nail a couple of the big rolls,” and be intelligent everywhere else in assessing risk.

“The hill,” he would say later, “is not so difficult skiing-wise. It’s difficult tactically. I was trying to be smart over those big tactical terrain changes and then push as hard as I could in the sections where I could take some risk and I knew I could push hard.”

RELATED: Rivals help Ted Ligety evolve as a racer

When he crossed, the scoreboard said 1:21.08.

He was 1.33 seconds ahead of the field. There were, literally, gasps and oohs and ahhs from seasoned watchers in the press room. In ski racing, 1.33 seconds might as well be a year.

By the time the field wound through the top 30, only Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic was even within shouting distance— the sound of Bank’s skis telling the story of his slash-and-dash down the course from the No. 28 hole to within 93-hundredths of a second. Bank’s best-ever World Cup finish: a giant-slalom fifth in December, 2010.

Davide Simoncelli of Italy stood third, 1.27 seconds back. His last World Cup win? Eight years ago.

Germany’s Stefan Luitz actually had gotten to within 59-hundredths of a second but then straddled the final gate with his right ski. He was DQ’d. “Maybe,” Luitz said, “I let my head go.”

How good was Ligety in Run 1? He led every one of the four splits. Once more — that lead was 93-hundredths. As an exercise in math, 93-hundredths covered every guy in the field from third through 21st — Simoncelli, 1.27 behind, through American Tim Jitloff, 2.15 back.

RELATED: Model Olympian – Ted Ligety

Hirscher, leading the current World Cup GS standings, finished Run 1 in seventh, 1.39 behind. Pinturault, second in the season standings, ended Run 1 in sixth, 1.36 back.

Miller was never a factor. He finished Run 1 2.56 behind, Run 2.53, in 20th. He said his left knee in particular wasn’t feeling quite right; his precise word was “jankied.” Also, he and his tech team, after watching the women’s GS Tuesday, figured on soft snow, and then came out Wednesday to find conditions were instead excellent. After the first run, he said, “I knew after four turns, Jesus, I’m in trouble.”

Ligety, meanwhile, said between runs he no longer had “to take the mega-risk,” adding,  “It’s really important to still go as hard in the sections you can so you’re making up time in the normal turns and just be smart to carry speed through those really difficult tactical sections.”

He also said, for emphasis, “You can’t let up in ski racing. Ski racing is the kind of thing where you can blow leads really quickly. And nothing is truly safe.”

He did not let up. He almost got caught on a right-footed turn about a third of the way down Run 2 but saved himself from what would have been a catastrophic fall and, again, because he knew the hill, ran hard but intelligently, giving back time with only the 14th-fastest in Run 2.

RELATED: Ted Ligety’s extraordinary 2013 season

Hirscher would finish fourth, just out of the medals; Pinturault would get third. Another French skier, Steve Missillier, would get second.

The final difference Wednesday between first and second? A whopping 48-hundredths of a second. The slo-mo cameras, again, were so revealing — Ligety’s skis, in a beautiful physics experiment, gliding along at a 90-degree angle to the slopes.

“Today,” Ligety said, “was awesome. There’s really no other way to put it.”

Atlanta Olympic venues, 20 years later (photos)

In this Friday, July 22, 2016 photo, people play in the fountains shaped by the Olympic rings at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. This was the hub of the games, a gathering spot for sponsor tents and nightly concerts. Tragedy struck midway through the Olympics when a deadly bombing ripped through the park, but it emerged afterward as a catalyst of downtown development, now surrounded by the hugely popular Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, College Football Hall of Fame, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and a giant ferris wheel. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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ATLANTA (AP) — Twenty years after the Olympics were held in Atlanta, some remnants of that improbable summer remain a highly visible part of the city’s landscape, while others quickly faded away.

Centennial Olympic Park and Turner Field — known as Centennial Olympic Stadium in 1996 — were the greatest legacy of those games, though the latter faces an uncertain future after just 20 seasons as home of baseball’s Atlanta Braves, who are moving to a new suburban stadium next year.

Other venues barely outlasted the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, while still more failed to live up to their intended purpose.

A look at Atlanta’s Olympic facilities two decades later:

CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC STADIUM: The 85,000-seat main stadium was site of athletics (Michael Johnson‘s world record, Carl Lewis‘ farewell) and both the opening and closing ceremonies (Muhammad Ali‘s poignant lighting of the torch). Afterward, the arena was converted into a 50,000-seat baseball park and renamed after the longtime owner of the Braves, Ted Turner. It hosted both the World Series and the All-Star Game during its early years, but the Braves have fallen on hard times and are moving to SunTrust Park in 2017. Georgia State is exploring the possibility of another conversion, which would downsize Turner Field into a 30,000-seat football stadium.

This photo combo shows a July 19, 1996 file photo of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony at Centennial Olympic Stadium, top, and a Friday July 15, 2016 photo of fireworks after an Atlanta Braves baseball game at what is now named Turner Field in Atlanta. The 85,000-seat main stadium was the site of athletics and both the opening and closing ceremonies. Afterward, the arena was converted into a 50,000-seat baseball park and renamed after the Braves' owner, Ted Turner. The Braves have fallen on hard times and are moving to SunTrust Park in 2017. Georgia State is exploring the possibility of another conversion, which would downsize Turner Field into a 30,000-seat football stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke, File, John Bazemore)

GEORGIA DOME: A divider transformed this 70,000-seat football stadium into two separate arenas — one the site of second Olympic Dream Team winning gold in men’s basketball, the other where the Magnificent Seven captured America’s first victory in women’s team gymnastics. Just 25 years after its opening, the dome is slated for demolition after $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium opens next door in 2017.

In this Monday, July 18, 2016 photo, a statue of a gymnast stands between the Georgia Dome, right, home of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games gymnastics and basketball events and current home of the Atlanta Falcons football team, and the Falcons' new stadium under construction at left. A divider transformed the Georgia Dome, a 70,000-seat football stadium into two separate arenas, one the site of second Olympic Dream Team winning gold in men's basketball, the other where the Magnificent Seven captured America's first victory in women's team gymnastics. Just 25 years after its opening, the dome is slated for demolition after $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium opens next door in 2017. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC PARK: This was the hub of the games, a gathering spot for sponsor tents and nightly concerts. Tragedy struck midway through the Olympics when a deadly bombing ripped through the park, but it emerged afterward as a catalyst of downtown development, now surrounded by the hugely popular Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, College Football Hall of Fame, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and a giant Ferris wheel.

GEORGIA TECH AQUATIC CENTER: Temporary seating was used during the Olympics, providing a 14,600-seat main pool for swimming, diving and synchronized swimming. There also was a 4,000-seat temporary pool for water polo. After the games, Georgia Tech enclosed the facility and reduced capacity to just under 2,000. This year, it hosted the NCAA swimming championships as well as a pre-Olympic camp for the U.S. swim team before it departed for the Rio Olympics.

In this Friday, July 22, 2016 photo, a diver stands on a diving board during practice at Georgia Tech's McAuley Aquatic Center, home of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming events in Atlanta. Temporary seating was used during the Olympics, providing a 14,600-seat main pool for swimming, diving and synchronized swimming. There also was a 4,000-seat temporary pool for water polo. After the games, Georgia Tech enclosed the facility and reduced capacity to just under 2,000. This year, it hosted the NCAA swimming championships as well as a pre-Olympic camp for the U.S. swim team before it departed for the Rio Olympics. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

GEORGIA WORLD CONGRESS CENTER: One of the world’s largest convention centers (and even more sprawling today after a post-Games expansion), it was divided into five separate arenas during the Olympics, reducing the need for wasteful new venues for fencing, handball, judo, table tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. That became a model for future Olympics.

ATLANTA-FULTON COUNTY STADIUM: Site of baseball during the Olympics, the former home of the Atlanta Braves served out the 1996 season, then was imploded the following summer to make way for a parking lot serving adjacent Turner Field.

In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo, visitors stand next a piece of the outfield wall of what used to be Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, home of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games baseball event, and former home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team in Atlanta. The stadium served out the 1996 baseball season, then was imploded the following summer to make way for a parking lot serving adjacent Turner Field. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

OMNI COLISEUM: Just a week before Atlanta Stadium came down, this facility used for volleyball during the Olympics met the same fate. Philips Arena now occupies the site.

GEORGIA INTERNATIONAL HORSE PARK: Equestrian, modern pentathlon and the first Olympic mountain bike competition were held at the park about 30 miles east of Atlanta. It remains an equestrian and events center, with horse and mountain bike trails plus an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course open to the public.

STONE MOUNTAIN PARK ARCHERY CENTER AND VELODROME: Temporary facilities for archery and track cycling came down shortly after the Olympics. The site is now part of a songbird and habitat trail.

STONE MOUNTAIN TENNIS CENTER: A permanent tennis facility built in a corner of Stone Mountain Park quickly became a money loser and now sits idle, weeds growing through the outer courts and the scoreboard in disrepair.

SANFORD STADIUM (Athens, Georgia): The home of the Georgia Bulldogs football team hosted soccer finals, including the U.S. memorably winning the first women’s gold. The stadium known for its famous hedges (which were taken down during the Olympics and then re-planted) has been expanded to hold more than 92,000.

ALEXANDER MEMORIAL COLISEUM: Site of boxing in 1996, Georgia Tech’s basketball arena underwent a massive renovation that completely gutted the interior of the building. It reopened in 2012 as gleaming McCamish Pavilion.

HERNDON STADIUM: Perhaps the saddest legacy of the games, this 15,000-seat stadium was used during the filming of the movie “We Are Marshall” but was abandoned after Morris Brown College ran into financial difficulties. Gutted by vandals, it is now covered in graffiti and piles of trash.

LAKE LANIER (Gainesville, Georgia): This man-made lake still has its rowing facilities, which have been used for major competitions over the last two decades. This year, it hosted an Olympic qualifier for Rio.

WOLF CREEK SHOOTING COMPLEX: Some facilities remain at this suburban venue now known as the Tom Lowe Shooting Grounds, but it no longer holds major international events.

ATLANTA BEACH: Located south of the city, this venue was site of the first Olympic beach volleyball tournament. It was renamed Clayton County International Park, with the main stadium now used for concerts and other events though the park still includes several beach volleyball courts, as well as a water park, lake and biking trails.

GOLDEN PARK (Columbus, Georgia): The 5,000-seat stadium, about a two-hour drive from Atlanta, was used for the first Olympic softball competition. It served for years as home to minor league baseball, but the last of those teams, the Columbus Catfish, left after the 2008 season. The stadium remains but no longer has a major tenant.

OTHER VENUES: Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum (volleyball preliminaries), Georgia State’s GSU Sports Arena (badminton), Clark-Atlanta’s Panther Stadium (field hockey) and Morehouse’s Forbes Arena (basketball preliminaries) are still used by their respective colleges. In fact, Panther Stadium now holds the athletics track used during the Olympics. The Ocoee Whitewater Center in Tennessee (whitewater canoeing) and Wassaw Sound near coastal Savannah, Georgia (sailing) were temporary venues. Preliminary soccer matches were held in four stadiums outside Atlanta. Birmingham’s Legion Field, Orlando’s Citrus Bowl and Washington’s RFK Stadium are still in use, while Miami’s Orange Bowl was torn down to make way for a new baseball stadium.

Baseball, softball, 4 more sports to learn Olympic fate next week

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TOKYO (AP) — Five sports, including surfing and skateboarding, moved a step closer to being included in the Tokyo 2020 Games after being described as “a dynamic and exciting” package by the IOC.

Skateboarding, surfing, karate, sports climbing and baseball/softball were all recommended for inclusion by the IOC. An Olympic program commission report released on Thursday said the five are a blend of the traditional and emerging, youth-focused events, and all have international and local appeal.

The IOC will make the final decision on the five sports in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 3, two days before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Games.

In assessing the case for inclusion, the commission considered gender equality, youth appeal and their legacy value.

The inclusion of the new sports would add 18 events and 474 athletes, with equal numbers of women and men for all sports except baseball/softball, because softball teams have 15 players, whilst baseball teams have 24.

The report said the new sports in Tokyo would not threaten the inclusion of existing Olympic sports or be binding on future host cities.

Baseball and softball, which are making a combined bid to return, were dropped after the 2008 Beijing Games. Their hopes for inclusion are boosted by their popularity in Japan.

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