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

17-year-old runs 3:52 mile at Pre Classic

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Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 17-year-old Norwegian, clocked 3:52.28 at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, faster than Alan Webb‘s U.S. high school record set at Pre in 2001.

“My goal was to take Alan Webb’s record,” Ingebrigtsen told media in Eugene, Ore.

It’s the second-fastest mile in history recorded by somebody younger than 18, according to the IAAF. Qatar’s Hamza Driouch ran 3:50.90 in 2012, clocked two months before two years of his results would be annulled by a doping ban.

Webb famously ran 3:53.43 as an 18-year-old at Pre in 2001, which led to him appearing on “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:58 at Pre last year to become the youngest sub-4-minute miler in history, finished fourth in a field of the world’s best middle-distance runners. His two older brothers, Filip and Henrik, are also middle-distance runners (but weren’t in Saturday’s race).

Ingebrigtsen beat Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz (fifth) and Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (sixth) in the Bowerman Mile. The race’s second-place finisher is 18 years old — Ethiopian Samuel Tefera ran 3:51.26

Webb was at Saturday’s meet, in part to award the 400th man to run a sub-4-minute mile in Pre Classic history.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m

Christian Coleman beaten, Tori Bowie injured at Pre Classic

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American Ronnie Baker stunned world silver medalist Christian Coleman to win the Prefontaine Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.78 seconds on Saturday, while world champion Tori Bowie suffered a leg injury in the women’s 100m.

Coleman, in his first individual race of the outdoor season, was passed by Baker midway through and finished second in 9.84 in Eugene, Ore. Coleman was last year’s breakout sprinter, taking silver between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in the last individual race of Bolt’s career and posting the fastest wind-legal time of the year (9.82).

Coleman said after Saturday’s race he was recovering from “tweaking something in my leg.” He withdrew from his scheduled season opener two weeks ago and, earlier this week, was scratched from running the 200m in addition to the 100m at Pre.

Baker also won the Pre 100m last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, failing to make the world championships team. Baker also exited in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Born in Louisville, Baker’s family moved to Alaska when he was 5. He ran cross-country in elementary school in Anchorage, avoiding the moose, before coming back to Kentucky in middle school. He was recruited to TCU in the 400m but went down to the 100m and 200m as a sophomore when the team was loaded with one-lap talent.

Gatlin was scheduled to race the Pre 100m but withdrew earlier this week with a reported right hamstring injury. Baker, Coleman and Gatlin could race each other at nationals in Des Moines next month.

With no Olympics or world outdoor championships this year, the Pre Classic is one of the premier meets, if not the greatest collection of talent. It’s also the last Pre before Hayward Field is demolished and rebuilt for 2020.

Bowie, who earned a medal of every color in Rio, was helped off the track by two officials after pulling up in the final meters of the women’s 100m. She said an upper leg muscle “grabbed pretty bad,” according to Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Ivorians Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Murielle Ahoure went one-two in 10.88 and 10.90, while Olympic champ Elaine Thompson was third in 10.98. Thompson, shockingly fifth at last year’s worlds, has now been beaten in both Diamond League 100m races this season.

PRE CLASSIC: Full Results

In other events, South African Caster Semenya extended her 800m winning streak to 23 meets dating to September 2015 by winning in her typical easy fashion in 1:55.92. Semenya, who led for the last 300 meters, clocked the fastest time ever on U.S. soil. She’s expected to be impacted by an IAAF rule limiting testosterone levels for female middle-distance runners scheduled to go into effect after this season.

Noah Lyles, a 20-year-old American on the rise, matched the fastest 200m in the world this year of 19.69, a personal best.

“I’m a little scared,” Lyles said on NBC. “I didn’t think I was going to run this fast this season. … I’m here to dominate.”

Olympic gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo won an Allyson Felix-less 400m in 49.52, the fastest time in the world this year. Felix, who withdrew from Pre for undisclosed reasons on Friday, is the only other woman to run that fast in the last three years.

Olympic and world triple jump champion Christian Taylor needed a final jump of 17.73 meters to overtake rival Will Claye.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champ in 108 years, finished sixth in the Bowerman Mile won by Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in 3:49.87.

The 2012 Olympic pole vault gold medalist Jenn Suhr won her first Diamond League event in five years, clearing 4.85 meters. Rio gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris were seventh and third.

Rio champ Ryan Crouser prevailed in a shot put competition that included every reigning Olympic and world medalist. Crouser broke the meet record with his fifth throw of 22.53 meters.

Olympic gold and silver medalists Consenslus Kipruto and Evan Jager were upset by Kenyan Benjamin Kigen in the 3000m steeplechase. Kigen, who has no Olympic or worlds experience, clocked 8:09.07, the fastest time in the world this year. Kipruto and Jager crossed together, 2.64 seconds later.

Jamaica’s Omar McLeod pulled away in the 110m hurdles, clocking a wind-aided 13.01 seconds. McLeod, the reigning Olympic and world champion, has only lost one 110m hurdles race since the start of 2017 (when he suffered a leg injury mid-race).

Olympic 400m hurdles champion Dalilah Muhammad was passed by Jamaican Janieve Russell in the final strides, getting edged by .03. Russell’s winning time of 54.06 is 1.31 seconds shy of the fastest time in the world held by Sydney McLaughlin, who is still in her NCAA season for Kentucky.

Shelby Houlihan, an Olympian in the 5000m, stunned Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson in the 1500m, surging in the home stretch and clocking 3:59.06, a personal best by 4.33 seconds. The race lacked Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon, who is sitting out this season due to pregnancy.

Elsewhere Saturday, the longest winning streak in the sport ended. Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk lost for the first time in nearly four years at a small meet in Germany in her first competition since Aug. 15, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League moves to Rome for a meet Thursday with live coverage on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m