Ted Ligety, a seven-time Olympic or world champion, had a best finish of eighth on the World Cup circuit last season. That is simply unacceptable for the most successful U.S. male Alpine skier in history.
“If the best race result I get all year is eighth place, like last year, then I’m not going to be doing this for much longer,” said Ligety, a 35-year-old father whose 321 career World Cup starts are the most among active Olympic medalists now that Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal have retired. “I don’t want to keep going if my peak is eighth place. I want to keep going if I can win races.”
Ligety knows how to win at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (Sunday, 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).
He prevailed a record four times between 2011 and 2015, before a string of significant injuries: a hip labrum tear in 2015, a season-ending ACL tear in 2016 and season-ending surgery for three herniated disks in his back in 2017.
He raced full seasons the last two years but not at his typical level — one World Cup podium (two weeks before the PyeongChang Olympics) and finishes of 15th and 11th in his bread-and-butter giant slalom at the 2018 Winter Games and 2019 Worlds.
Ligety said he’s felt healthy through preseason training. The back is the only concern at this point, and it’s holding up.
“It’s always hard to say until race season starts because there’s nothing quite like the forces and pressures a race puts on your body,” he said.
Ligety will deem this a successful season if he’s winning races. His 25 career World Cup victories (24 in giant slalom) are most among active men with longtime rival Marcel Hirscher‘s retirement.
“It’s always hard to see at the get-go, but I’m hoping [winning or making the podium] is possible in Soelden,” he said. “It’s been a hill that’s treated me well. I’ve had a lot of success here. That’s definitely the goal.”
His chances may be greatly impacted before he gets to the start gate. Course setups in recent years have worked against Ligety, known for his unique ability to carve turns.
“It’s pretty crazy watching video from 2014 versus now how much less turn there is,” he said. “Nowadays, a course is almost dead straight. It’s really done a lot different, for nothing other than just a trend within the coaches setting that way. Maybe this year, the person who sets the first course maybe sets a turning one, and all of a sudden we start having turning courses again.”
NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said Ligety is one of the more difficult racers to read.
“Because he really can race above his training ability,” Porino said. “If I base it on what I saw last year, it’s going to be one of these scenarios where if the course and conditions are in his wheelhouse. … When they’re straight, he doesn’t stand much of a chance. But they’re not all going to be straight.
“When the course has a lot of swing to it, he’s still really good at that, and he’s got a chance of being on the podium.”
Ligety plans to race a more limited schedule than in years’ past — just giant slaloms, and probably the Beaver Creek super-G — and spend more time back home in Utah with his family. His current stretch ahead of Soelden — three weeks on the road — will be by far his longest away from home.
Ligety will use that extra time for training and to race on the U.S.-based World Pro Ski Tour, which runs from December to April.
“If I go past this season, then probably going through the [2022 Beijing] Olympics, but otherwise it’s really hard to say,” he said.
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