Christophe Ena, Associated Press
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Ted Ligety took his time showing up at the Sochi Olympics, finally taking his first training run Tuesday — two days after the first men's Alpine race and nearly a week after many competitors began preparing on the hill.
That was by design.
Four years ago, the American got to Whistler, British Columbia, ahead of the Vancouver Games as early as anyone, with a lot of attention and expectations thrown his way thanks to a gold medal from the 2006 Turin Games. Having thrived in his Olympic debut, he did not repeat that success in 2010, failing to finish one event and coming in fifth, ninth and 19th in his others.
"He was in Whistler for a long time before his real events, and he just got stale there, from being there that long," U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick said after Ligety was 15th in Tuesday's practice session, covering the Rosa Khutor downhill course in 2 minutes, 0.92 seconds, 4½ seconds slower than teammate Bode Miller.
"That's part of the reason we just brought him in just today," Rearick said, "knowing there's a sacrifice on the front side, but there's a benefit on the back side."
So while Miller and others were racing for medals last weekend, Ligety was resting and relaxing in Zurich before flying to Russia on Monday night. His first event is the super-combined on Friday, and Ligety already is familiar with the Olympic slope, because Russia and the United States had an agreement that allowed their skiers to train in each other's country.
Ligety arrives at the Sochi Olympics as a real known quantity to others and, rather significantly, to himself; someone who not only already has a gold medal but who also dominated the 2013 world championships. His three titles — a second consecutive in the giant slalom, his specialty, along with wins in the super-combined and super-G — made him the first man with at least that many at a worlds since Jean Claude Killy earned four all the way back in 1968.
"I'm feeling similar to how I did last year," Ligety said. "I don't know if that'll equal the same results. That'd be nice. I'm definitely feeling I'm well-prepared."
He was not perfectly prepared for the last Winter Games. Yes, he was skiing well. But he acknowledges now he didn't have the right mindset.
Finishing ninth in the giant slalom in 2010 served as a kick to the gut.
"Ever since then, I've raised my intensity and skied at a level where I'm happy every time I get to the finish line, whether that's winning or blowing out or getting third place," said the 29-year-old Ligety, whose parents taught him to ski as a tyke growing up in Park City, Utah. "I just want to be happy that I pushed myself as hard as I could every single run, every single race. And that's ended up being a much better strategy for me."
Ligety has been as dominant at giant slalom as anyone has been in any event in recent years, winning four of the past six World Cup discipline titles, and three of this season's six races, including one by 1½ seconds on Feb. 2 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The first 19 race wins of his career, and 32 of his first 39 podium finishes, came in giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 19.
First comes the super-combined, which adds times from one downhill run and one slalom run. When Ligety won it in 2006, it was known as the combined, and added one downhill to two slaloms.
Eight years later, he believes he's ready to win again.
"I didn't want to become just a 'one-hit wonder' and only win one Olympic gold medal and then not do anything else, whether it was the World Cup or world championships or Olympics," Ligety said. "I think that was a good motivator for me to work even harder and get even better at my sport. I guess winning the second one has been more difficult than winning the first one."
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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