SALT LAKE CITY —
It's all in the timing, as Park City's Ted Ligety can attest. The rules of skiing change, yet they play right into his style. NBC shows up to do a special on him and he is everything his nickname (Shred) promises. He trashes the venerable giant slalom course at Alta Badia, Italy, finishing an improbable two seconds ahead of anyone else.
The Park City native has already won four World Cup giant slalom competitions this year, giving him 15 for his career. That ties him with previous GS record holder Alberto (La Bomba) Tomba of Italy.
It's never a bad thing when you're mentioned in the same breath as a guy they called "The Bomb."
Shred … La Bomba. What, are these guys superheroes? If you ask the competition, the answer is yes. Ligety is currently the world's best skier in his event. Swedish downhiller Hans Olsson wrote on Twitter "… Marvel pictures are going to make a new movie about a superhero! Its not The Hulk, Spiderman or Batman! It's about Ted Ligety!"
Can lunchboxes and action toys be far behind?
"All this year, things have gone very well," Ligety said via telephone interview from Switzerland last week. "It's definitely exceeded my expectations."
Not even he could have predicted a rule change would fuel one of the best seasons in World Cup history.
It's not like Ligety was a flyspeck coming into this season. He burst into the global consciousness during the 2006 Winter Olympics, winning a gold medal in combined. From there he made exponential leaps. He is on the verge of winning his fourth World Cup overall GS championship.
The International Skiing Federation (FIS) recently determined that longer skis were needed to improve safety. The added length turned out to be perfect for Ligety's long, low turns. Even so, he isn't a fan of the change.
"Myself and 98 percent of World Cup athletes were pretty mad about it," Ligety said. "I still believe it's a poor decision, just because they think it's safer — based on three days of testing of athletes who are outside the top 100, with no skier or racer input — and there was no recourse to say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa!' But after thinking about it, I thought it might help me."
Help it did. In mid-December at Alta Badia, as the NBC cameras blinked, he won his first run by 2.40 seconds, a time that had opponents shaking their heads in disbelief. He finished the race with an overall 2.04-second margin of victory.
He won the first two GS races of this season by 2.75 seconds and 1.76 seconds, respectively. Both were ridiculously easy wins. One teammate compared his current groove to throwing eight touchdown passes in a game..
"You can't do anything at the moment. He's way ahead," Croatia's Ivica Kostelic told the Associated Press, sounding almost reverential.
"I've been taken aback," Ligety admitted this week.
Last weekend at Adelboden, Switzerland, he won again, drawing the comparisons to Tomba.
"Definitely an honor," said Ligety, who as a child watched Tomba race in Park City.
Only Bode Miller (33) and Phil Mahre (27) have more career World Cup wins among American men.
Maybe it's his Utah sensibility, but Ligety downplays the celebrity aspect. As hundreds of other American skiers have attested over the years, they're better known in Europe than they are in the United States.
"We can go anonymous pretty easily around here," Ligety said. "In Europe it's definitely a bigger deal."
He doesn't go so far as to say American skiers are mobbed in European airports, but they are regularly recognized. As he recently gassed up his car in Slovenia, the attendant wished him good luck in an upcoming race.Comment on this story
Still, said Ligety, "people often recognize us (overseas), but it's not like we're the Backstreet Boys or anything."
Who knew? The guy even has good comedic timing.
Last Sunday, NBC aired the feature that was filmed during his sensational week in December.
"It's been a surreal feeling," Ligety said of his success. "It was really good timing having that (television) crew following me around and to have that up in front of them. It was pretty cool, because in ski racing it's pretty easy to smash up."
But NBC loved the outcome.
That meant its own timing, too, was right on track.