ALTA BADIA, Italy — Hermann Maier, Ingemar Stenmark, Michael von Gruenigen, Ted Ligety.
Yes, Ted Ligety.
The 26-year-old Park City skier raced to his third straight World Cup giant slalom victory Sunday, matching a feat last accomplished by Maier 10 seasons ago. Stenmark (1979) and von Gruenigen (1995) are the only other skiers to open a season with three straight giant slalom victories.
Sweeter still for Ligety, he mastered the steep Gran Risa — the gold standard in the giant slalom.
"I'm so happy. It was always my dream to win here on such a classic course," Ligety said. "This is the premier GS hill on the World Cup tour without a doubt."
Ligety joined an Alta Badia winners' roll that started with Swedish star Stenmark 25 seasons ago. Alberto Tomba, the irrepressible Italian, inscribed his name four times, and Bode Miller did it in 2002.
"Tomba has won here ... and all the big names. It's cool to be on that list of guys, for sure," said Ligety, who also took the lead in the World Cup overall standings.
Ligety has eight career World Cup victories, all in giant slalom.
His big victories the past two weekends in Beaver Creek, Colo., and Val d'Isere, France, ensured a buzz in the freezing Italian Dolomite mountains resort when Ligety came out of the starting gate.
"(Ted) is amazing right now," Miller said. "GS is amazing to watch when someone is skiing like that."
Ligety had a two-run time of 2 minutes, 31.99 seconds. Cyprien Richard, the first-round leader, was 0.14 seconds back, and fellow Frenchman Thomas Fanara was third — 0.55 seconds back.
"Ted is a big champion," Richard said. "The second run was my fault. I missed my concentration to make this mistake."
Ligety rallied in the second run.
"I knew I could make it up on a hill like this," Ligety said. "I definitely had a lot of confidence after winning the last two races by large amounts."
Miller, who finished 2.86 seconds back in 15th, joined a throng of United States skiers and staff in the finish area cheering Ligety on to stretch the streak.
"It's inspiring," U.S. downhill racer Steven Nyman said. "Ted was just on the money. He's just so balanced on his skis."
It was a good day for American skiers, with Lindsey Vonn winning a super-combined in Val d'Isere, to take the women's overall lead as she seeks a fourth straight World Cup title.
Ligety's lead is less likely, with his maximum points in giant slalom lifting him to a 321-315 advantage over Silvan Zurbriggen, the Swiss winner of Saturday's downhill in nearby Val Gardena who failed to qualify for the second run Sunday.
"I would not bet on myself," joked Ligety, when asked about his overall prospects with around 25 races remaining.Comment on this story
Ligety will struggle in speed events after poor snow conditions affected his offseason program, though he compensated with a complete conditioning regime after a right knee injury in 2009.
"I'm in really good shape this year," he said, pointing also to confidence in his skis from new supplier Head.
Ligety's eighth career World Cup win took him within one of Miller's U.S. record in GS.
Few doubt it could arrive Jan. 8 at the most traditional of GS races held on the snow-packed cow pastures of Adelboden, Switzerland.
"That would be something crazy," Ligety acknowledged. "It's hard for me to fathom. But I'm skiing good enough that I could win there."