Amy Donaldson: Amy Donaldson: Ligety blossoming best in the shadows
Ted Ligety's talent apparently blossoms best in the shadows of his teammates.
While teammate Lindsey Vonn claims a prize no other skier has ever won — the Associated Press Athlete of the Year — Ligety, also known as Shred, quietly goes about shredding giant slalom courses around the world.
While Bode Miller has become a household name, Ligety is a name known almost exclusively by alpine ski insiders.
The 26-year-old Park City native not only understands why the spotlight shines elsewhere, he prefers it that way.
"They have had more success than me," Ligety said during a teleconference earlier this week. "When you're the best, not just in your event, but in your entire sport, you (garner) the attention. It's also kind of nice not having to be fully in the focus."
That may be changing for the man who won an Olympic gold medal in combined in 2006, as he did what only four other male skiers have done. He won his third consecutive giant slalom race Sunday on the course he said every alpine skier wants to conquer — Gran Risa in Alta Badia, Italy.
"It's a dream come true," said Ligety, who had never earned a spot on the podium at Gran Risa before Sunday. The last time a male skier has won three GS races in a row was when Austrian Hermann Maier did it in 2001.
That's because consistency in the giant slalom is tough to achieve.
The GS requires athletes to master the raw speed of downhill racing with the turning ability of slalom in two different runs. Add to that the icy conditions on Sunday, and even the world's most decorated skiers will have trouble with consistency.
Ligety is enjoying his success thus far after a disappointing season last year.
Despite winning the GS World Cup title, he failed to win a medal in the 2010 games, while the rest of the U.S. alpine team hauled in a record number of medals.
"I wasn't skiing the way I wanted," he said. "I was pretty disappointed with my year. I didn't have a good Olympics."
He poured that disappointment into effort in the offseason.
"That was a big motivation," Ligety said. "I worked harder than I had in the last couple of years. I was healthy going into the fall. (The disappointment) was a good motivator."
He is in better shape, using new equipment (Head) and with each win, he gains a little more respect and a lot more confidence.
"GS has just been the event that has clicked for me that last couple of years," he said. "Once you start doing well, you feel the pressure to keep a large focus on that because that's your bread and butter."
Ligety said he also understands the fascination with Vonn, who won a super combined World Cup race Sunday to take over the World Cup lead in overall points.
"Her dominance is very impressive," he said. "It's really a testament to her work ethic. I can't really name anybody who works harder than she does."
And while he's fine skiing treacherous terrain in Vonn's shadow, that could change if he continues to dominate in the GS.
In fact, his third straight win was enough to make head coach Sasha Rearick gush.
"Unbelievable," he said of the accomplishment. "It was a great competition, fun to come out on top. He is skiing impressive, in all kinds of conditions. The people who were competitive with him last week weren't today."
As for Ligety, he's just taking it in stride and hoping his streak continues.
"Doing it today is super special," he said. "I feel really lucky to have won it. When things get rolling like they have been for me, you seem to get lucky. I am just super psyched."
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