Bode Miller vs. Ted Ligety — the tale of the tape

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source: Getty Images
source: Getty Images

Bode Miller and Ted Ligety are perhaps two of the most innovative Alpine skiers that the United States has ever sent to the Olympics.

Since his debut on the World Cup circuit, Miller has carved a place in history as one of the most aggressive ski racers ever. Since day one, he has been the guy cutting turns a little tighter and holding top-speed a little longer than rivals. That willingness to ride the edge between danger and disaster has enabled him to do things on the slope unlike any other before him or since.

“I’ve always tried to live my life in a way that I won’t regret later,” Miller said. “It’s one of my favorite qualities about myself, that I didn’t choose — kind of been that way since I was young. I do everything as hard as I can and I don’t leave a lot out there.”

But that unconventional style can often be maddening for fans and media as his risks have reaped as many spectacular rewards as failures. Many have wondered how many more victories and medals he could have on his resume had he been more fixated on results as opposed to the ethereal quality of his performances. Not that he hasn’t been successful. His five Olympic medals and 33 World Cup victories make him the winningest American male ski racer in history.

Hoping to close the gap on his childhood idol is Ligety, who, too, approaches skiing in an unconventional manner. He has earned the reputation for being perhaps the most technically-proficient skiers of all time through a seeming obsession with mastering ski technology, and the science of angles and turn radius. He has made it his mission to get more out of his equipment than his competitors, and has come up with a unique style for carving gates. His rounder approach forces him to begin the next turn while finishing the one before, an approach that has garnered him the nickname “Shred.”

Like Miller, Ligety’s strengths have produced results. He has won 21 times on the World Cup circuit, 20 of those in the giant slalom, the third most in the history of the discipline. He has also won four World Cup giant slalom globes and in 2013 he won gold in the giant slalom, slalom and super-combined at the World Championships, becoming the first man since Jean-Claude Killy of France in 196 to win three titles.

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“Ted’s focused on what he needs to do to not lose,” U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick said. “He’s amazing that way. “He’s so professional in everything he does, in terms of getting up in the morning, warming up, making sure his service guys have the perfect setup, training his butt off, coming off the hill and talking to the service guys — ‘OK, this is what we have to adjust’ — getting in on the bike to recover, eating the right foods. He does all those things in such a professional way.”

While similarly groundbreaking on skis, the pair present themselves as polar opposites off the slope. Miller is often seen as the brash one, always outspoken and blunt with the media, while Ligety is more soft-spoken and out of the public eye. But they are always complimentary of each other in the press.

Ligety, who finished 15th and 11th in the last two downhill training runs, said of his preparation that it was, “encouraging to have improvement.” He added that his teammate’s medal prospects, on paper, would seem better than Julia Mancuso’s were before her bronze-winning effort.

“Bode has a chance always,” Ligety told AP. “His slalom can be really good sometimes. … If he has a really good downhill run he’s in a good position because he won’t feel like he has to take any risk. Bode is historically a far better slalom skier than Julia was. And he still has a lot of speed in it and he still actually trains it a fair amount. It’s all a matter of consistency for him.”

Miller agreed with Ligety’s assessment.

“I don’t have the same time into slalom this year as the slalom guys,” he said. “That’s the real disadvantage. Those guys they train a ton of slalom, they know their set-ups they are able to come straight onto a pretty-aggressive, gnarly hill with marginal conditions and ski 100 percent. I don’t know that I am confident enough to do that, but I am going to pretty much have to, I think.”

These two stars of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, one a speed demon, the other a technical wizard, both so different and yet so similar, will collide in the men’s super-combined on Friday. The downhill run begins at 1 am ET with the slalom run following at 6:30 am ET. Here is a closer look at the American gold-medal hopefuls:

Bode Miller Name Ted Ligety
Easton, N.H. Birthplace Salt Lake City, UT
36 Age 29
6′ 2” Height 5′ 11”
196 lbs. Weight 190 lbs.
5 Olympic appearances 3
Gold, 2010 Vancouver
super-combined
Best Olympic finish
Gold, 2006 Torino
Combined
5 Olympic medal won
1
1997 World Cup debut season 2003
3 2013-14 World Cup podiums 6
0 2013-14 World Cup victories 4
78 Career World Cup podiums 26
33 Career World Cup victories 21
13 Career World Cup Combined/Super-combined Podiums 2
6 Career World Cup Combined/Super-combined Victories 1
2 World Cup overall titles 0
4 World Championships won 4
“There’s no questioning Ted’s ability or his brain. He’s smart and he’s unique in that he takes responsibility for his situation. That’s what has allowed him to be successful. He has no one to blame for his success except himself.” Key quotes
“Bode was one of my heroes growing up. It’s kind of fun to be on the U.S. Ski Team with him, going back and forth with him, for sure. He has me in the speed events and I have him more so in the tech events. The super-combined is kind of where our two skill sets converge.”

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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