Ted Ligety will keep ski racing, so long as he’s contending

Ted Ligety
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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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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule

Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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