Ted Ligety rallies to win third straight World title in giant slalom (video)

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A season that Ted Ligety called less than stellar, even a struggle, continued that way in the first run of the World Championships giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday.

Ligety skied into fifth place in an event he’s owned for much of the last several years — consecutive World Championships gold medals, Sochi Olympic gold and five of seven World Cup titles.

Giant slalom is often called the truest test of a skier’s ability — requiring a mix of speed and technical skills — and Ligety has mastered it better than perhaps anyone ever. They call him Mr. GS.

But close observers wouldn’t have been shocked by Ligety skiing slower than four other men Friday morning. He’s won just one of five World Cup giant slaloms this season, skiing for most of the campaign with four screws inserted into his left hand following a November training injury.

Ligety stepped to the start gate for his second and final run Friday afternoon needing to make up a deficit of .24 and, more challenging, better all four men who would ski after him, punctuated by his biggest rival.

“I definitely feel, I don’t know if it’s nervous or anxious, but I always feel that for sure in the start gate,” Ligety said. “Especially in giant slaloms, where I know any time I get in the start gate of a giant slalom, I have a good chance of winning. That kind of adds that extra bit of pressure. You’re fighting for the title.

“Today I was relaxed as I possibly could be.”

It showed. Ligety was .55 faster in his second run than any other man. He won an unprecedented third straight World title in the giant slalom and by a credible margin, .45 of a second. Ligety has dominated many races by much greater margins, but this title, his seventh gold medal at a Worlds or Olympics, was special.

“I think this one is maybe a little more emotional than some of the other ones just because this year has been a little bit more of a struggle,” Ligety said on NBCSN minutes after the race, sunglasses covering palpable affection, even through TV, from a man who doesn’t often give away more than a smile and a fist pump. “In 2013, I was winning everything and so it felt like, not a given, but that I should be winning it really easily. Same with [Sochi] Olympics. I was skiing great before that. … This one was a bigger question mark.”

Ligety clinched his gold, the first by an American at these Worlds, when first-run leader Marcel Hirscher skied into silver-medal position. France’s Alexis Pinturault took bronze, .88 back.

“Ted was today in a league of his own,” fourth-place German Felix Neureuther said, according to the Denver Post.

Ligety felt extra satisfaction in overtaking Hirscher, throwing one of his skis after the Austrian crossed the finish line and sharing in the crowd’s raucous celebration. Hirscher, just 25, may be on his way to a fourth straight World Cup overall title this season, never before done by a man.

“Who knows what’ll happen the next couple of years, but he’s definitely on his way to becoming one of the greatest of all time, if not already kind of is,” Ligety said. “It adds sweetness to it when I can nab him.”

Ligety is decorated in his own right. The Park City, Utah, native captured his seventh Worlds medal overall, breaking a tie with Lindsey Vonn for most among Americans.

He’s a two-time Olympic champion with more global championship titles than any other American. Ligety is the greatest U.S. racer on the biggest stage.

Ligety’s next mountain to climb is greater than .24 of a second and four skiers. He has three World Cup giant slaloms to go this season to make up 138 points on Hirscher and take a third straight season title in the event.

“Getting my butt handed to me often times by this guy over here was definitely not something that’s super enjoyable,” Ligety said in a press conference, with Hirscher holding a bottle of water to his right.

Each race winner receives 100 points in the World Cup, with 80 for second, 60 for third and on down the line. That means Hirscher controls his own destiny, but the Austrian might not be able to afford scoring zero in one of those three races. Not if Ligety skis like he did Friday afternoon.

“My run was good,” Hirscher said, according to the Associated Press. “Ted’s run was outstanding.”

The World Championships continue with the women’s slalom, featuring defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin, on Saturday.

World Alpine Skiing Championships broadcast schedule | Lindsey Vonn sets next goal after Worlds

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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