KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Since the Vancouver Olympics, Ted Ligety has been the dominant force in giant slalom, winning 15 World Cup races, a gold at the World Championships and three season-long World Cup titles. Wednesday, he may finally bring that superiority to the Olympics.
Ligety turned in a precise and powerful first run in the Olympic giant slalom, skiing the Rosa Khutor course in 1 minute, 21.08 seconds – a comfortable 0.93 seconds ahead of second-place Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic.
Some perspective on that advantage for the second run, which is scheduled for 5:30 a.m. EST: The next 16 racers in the morning run were separated by 0.92 seconds.
“That helps the mental position a little bit going into the second run, especially when you have a hill like this that is difficult tactically,” Ligety said. “There is a lot of room to make huge mistakes. I’d much rather have this kind of lead.”
Ligety is a gold medalist, but that came unexpectedly eight years ago in the combined event at the Turin Olympics. Four years ago in Vancouver, he was a disappointing ninth in giant slalom, his signature event – featuring fewer turns that slalom, Alpine skiing’s shortest discipline, but far more technical than the hell-bent downhill.
And this could make up for Ligety’s Olympics to this point, which have not been what he expected – especially after winning gold in combined, super-G and giant slalom at last year’s World Championships. Here, he was 12th in the super combined and 14th in super-G.
Now, his lead is significant. Bank’s morning run came late, from the 28th position. Italy’s Davide Simoncelli is third, 1.27 seconds back, with Matthias Mayer of Switzerland and Thomas Fanara of France tied at 1.33 seconds behind.
American Bode Miller, a six-time Olympic medalist, sits 26th, 2.56 seconds behind. Miller, who is struggling with inflammation in his surgically repaired left knee, doesn’t know whether he’ll compete in Saturday night’s slalom, the final Alpine event here, so the afternoon run could be his last of the Olympics.
Ligety, though, sounded prepared for what’s ahead.
“I’ve had a lot of races where I’ve had this kind of lead, and a pretty good track record of maintaining that and winning those,” Ligety said. “I know that I don’t have to take the mega-risk. If I was only winning by two hundredths, you know you’d have to take big risk on those rolls in order to gain every tenth of time. A tenth isn’t super-important right now.”