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Ted Ligety determined to win again as World Cup stops at Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — His face showed little expression as he glided his way down the hill. This was serious business — no laughing, smiling or crying.

With his two-time Olympic gold medalist father holding on, 17-month-old Jax Ligety took his first trek down the slope a few months ago. The look: Pure determination.

It’s a look Ted Ligety knows all too well. He’s that determined to return to the top.

For years, Ligety has been plagued by knee and back issues. Now healthier than he’s been in a while, Ligety’s attempting to rediscover the giant slalom form that allowed him to win an Olympic gold medal (2014 Sochi Games), capture five World Cup titles in the discipline and challenge Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher.

“I don’t know if I’m the Ted of 2012, which was pretty fast,” said Ligety, who plans to compete in the super-G and GS this weekend in Beaver Creek (live on NBC Sports; TV/stream schedule here). “That’s definitely where I’m shooting for, though. I feel like it’s getting to the point where I can start winning races again. That’s the goal right now.”

His last World Cup victory was Oct. 25, 2015, in Austria — before he frayed the cartilage in his hip, tore the ACL in his right knee and strained his back to the point where the 34-year-old from Park City, Utah, needed season-ending surgery in January 2017 to fix herniated disks. There was promise last season, with a third-place showing in Germany just before the PyeongChang Games last February.

But his GS title defense at the Olympics didn’t go as planned as he finished tied for 15th place in a race won by Hirscher. Ligety did take fifth during the combined, also won by Hirscher.

As an experience, Ligety described PyeongChang as “fun” with his wife, Mia, Jax and his family in attendance.

As a racer, not so much.

“I was there to compete and go for medals and came up a little short in the combined and vastly underperformed in the giant slalom,” said Ligety, who captured Olympic gold in the combined at the 2006 Torino Games. “It’s not the way I would’ve liked to have things to go down in the Olympics.”

These days, he’s all about family time. His wife and son travel with him as often as possible. Ligety gave his son his first taste of skiing at a New Zealand venue in August.

“I definitely want him to be a skier. Do I want him to be a ski racer? If he wants to. It’s not something I would ever push on him,” Ligety said. “A big part of my life is skiing. I want him to ski race at least when he’s younger so he has that base. But I wouldn’t push him beyond just going out there and having fun with friends.”

There was a time when his rivals used to refer to him as “Mr. GS” for his dominance in the event. Ligety had a stretch where he captured three straight world championship GS titles and another during the 2013 season when he won six of eight races in the event.

But injuries took a toll on him. He tore his ACL during a training mishap in Germany in January 2016. His back and hip have also hindered him.

This summer, though, he went through something he hasn’t in quite a while — a customary prep period. For once, he wasn’t rehabbing an injury. He actually got to train.

“High volume, too,” Ligety said. “I’m feeling good.”

Good enough to challenge Hirscher, who’s won seven straight World Cup overall titles?

“To able to compete with him is definitely a tall task,” Ligety said. “But I really don’t think I’d be out here if I didn’t think I could get back to that point.”

Ligety laughs when asked how much longer he intends to race, simply saying he’s closer to the end than the beginning. His immediate plan is to race for two more seasons and then play it by ear.

“I may go another two years after that, but it will be based on how the skiing is going, how the body is feeling, family, and all that stuff,” Ligety said.

He’s not quite ready for a full, full-time job. He does run a company he started called Shred, which makes goggles, sunglasses, gloves and other products.

“A desk is not my preferred work environment,” Ligety said. “That’s what’s great about being a ski racer: You ultimately control your own destiny in what you do. And that’s the big reason I started a business. I wanted to have that in the business world as well, something I could control the destiny of and be a part of and how it’s shaped. That’s part of that future me.”

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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