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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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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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