Olympics: Ready to put injury-riddled seasons behind him, new dad Ted Ligety takes aim at more medals – Salt Lake Tribune
It’s an Olympics year, and the 32-year-old alpine ski racing star has plenty to prove not only to himself, but the world that he’s still a leader of the pack. Not only as the defending giant slalom gold medalist, but as one of the sport’s premier talents who has been dealt setback after setback the last three seasons.
Ligety was forced to cut short last season’s World Cup campaign to undergo back surgery to fix herniations in the nerve roots that consistently sent searing pain down his legs any time he’d hit a simple bump zipping down a course.
“Being beat up,” he said, “that’s just the way it is when you’re in your 30s, and you’ve been racing World Cups since your teens. Just a lot of miles. A lot of hard miles.”
Those hard miles left Ligety on the outside looking in at the 2017 World Championships. No ski racer ever had won three straight world titles in the giant slalom until Ligety did so. The back injury kept him off the snow and away from tacking onto history with a potential fourth straight world crown. That still eats at Ligety every day.
But once he “decided to pull the pin” on surgery, it was a choice made not for the immediate but for the long term, especially with the Olympic Games in PyeongChang right around the corner.
“It was a good window to do it, whereas otherwise I could’ve kept skiing,” he said, “but it would’ve been getting 10th to 30th place and hoping and praying it could be better than that.”
The back surgery was only the latest episode of bad luck Ligety’s encountered since winning gold at the 2014 Games in Sochi. He suffered a torn ACL in a training run in Germany in January 2016, just two months after overcoming three herniated discs in his back as well as a muscle tear in his hip. Compared to some of the other injuries he’s been faced with in his career, the most recent back surgery was “a million times easier.”
Another smile arrives when discussing the joy of being able to walk out of the operating room. Ligety then looks back up at the hills of Deer Valley. That’s where his first training runs after surgery took place a few months back. And that’s where U.S. alpine coach Sasha Rearick would have to remind his friend day after day to try to take it easy.
“He’s a race horse, and he wants to be in the gate,” Rearick said. “He wants to go out and wants to push out the gate and go as hard as he can. That’s all that’s on his mind when it comes to race season.”
Ligety, who turns 33 in August, now has his fourth Olympics in his crosshairs. Since bursting onto the stage at 21, stunning the field by winning gold in the combined at the 2006 Games in Turin, his career has been littered with Olympic, World Cup and World Championship success. Ligety became the first male racer to win three events at a World Championships in 2013. A year later, his gold in Sochi was the first ever won by an American in giant slalom.
Riding this unfortunate series of injuries, what are his expectations in PyeongChang?
Defending the GS gold is his first priority. Ligety mentioned vying for a medal in the super G as a possibility depending on how he feels come December and January. The only time he’s ever raced in PyeongChang was 11 years ago. That turned out to be his first-ever World Cup victory.
“I have good feelings,” he said.
Rearick said Ligety remains a medal contender in his eyes in large part to the evolution of his preparation and routine. Every single day, Rearick says, Ligety is up an hour before anyone else working out.
“He’s religious to the extreme on it,” Rearick added.