SCHLADMING, Austria – Ted Ligety is no longer just a giant slalom specialist. By winning gold medals in super-G and super-combined at the world championships, the American has shown he’s an all-around threat with the 2014 Sochi Olympics exactly a year away.
Ligety added the super-combi title to his expanding resume Monday with a superb downhill and an equally impressive night slalom run under the lights on the icy Planai course.
Next up: defending his 2011 title in Friday’s giant slalom — the event in which he’s won four of five World Cup races this season.
“I never wanted to be a specialist. I’ve always tried so hard in my career to be a multi-event skier,” Ligety said. “To have three world championships in three different events is pretty surreal — that’s a cool feeling.”
Sitting sixth after the downhill run, Ligety clocked a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 56.96 seconds. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia finished second, a distant 1.15 seconds behind, and Romed Baumann of host Austria took the bronze medal, 1.17 back, after leading the downhill leg.
Ligety won the combined in the old format with two slalom runs at the 2006 Turin Olympics, but he had never finished on the podium before in a super-combined, which has only one slalom leg.
The Park City, Utah, native had a super-combi podium finish in sight in Wengen, Switzerland, last month until his right ski slipped free two-thirds down his slalom run. And in the traditional combined in Kitzbuehel a few weeks ago, he missed a gate early in his first slalom run.
“On paper I should be one of the top combined guys and I’ve struggled a lot in the event over the last couple of years,” Ligety said. “To finally win one in a world championship is awesome.”
Ligety opened the championships with his first career super-G win last week, and combined with Julia Mancuso’s bronze in super-G, the U.S. Ski Team is leading the championships’ medal table after six of 11 events. Host Austria is last with two bronzes.
Not bad, considering Lindsey Vonn had a season-ending crash in the opening event and Bode Miller is sitting out this season to recover from left knee surgery.
“And we still have a few guns in the start gate, so we’re psyched to be in this position,” U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said.
While he wasn’t the last racer down, Ligety celebrated after his run by skiing around in a circle in the finish area, then let out a series of fist pumps, knowing that it would be hard for anyone to match him.
“I was aware that I was in good position,” Ligety said. “I’ve been on the World Cup for nine years now so I know how to handle the pressure.”
Two-time defending champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway stood second after the downhill but straddled a gate in the slalom. Austrian veteran Benjamin Raich was also well positioned and straddled.
Kostelic and Raich, both former overall champions, share the record of World Cup wins in super-combi with five each.
On the steep final pitch of the downhill, Ligety threw his skis into each turn and leaned down and touched the snow with his hip and hands as if skiing GS.
“It’s really a testament to my downhill this morning. It was awesome,” Ligety said. “I knew I didn’t have to push super hard in the slalom.”
Kostelic had an unusually poor slalom run.
“I did not race tactically,” he said. “I just did not get into the rhythm, was too late all the time.”
That opened a door for Ligety.
“I knew I could ski down a little more tactically. I didn’t have to fully hammer,” Ligety said. “That took a little bit of pressure off me.”
Baumann didn’t qualify for Austria’s squad for Saturday’s downhill and his motivation was evident.
“I saw Ivica’s run and I thought, when I give everything, I can do that as well,” he said. “I just wanted to go fast. I tried to ski slalom like I used to do six or seven years ago. During inspection I thought, ‘this is going to be brutally tough.’ But it went better than expected.”
The last American to win the combined title at worlds was Bode Miller in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003. Miller won the super-combi at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, meaning the Americans — assuming Miller returns — will go to Sochi with the defending and world champion in the event.
For now, though, Ligety’s focus is on giant slalom.
“I’ve had two days of GS training in the last month,” Ligety said. “I’m going to need to focus the next couple days to get the precision back in that event.”