Thank you, Ted
Ligety leaves a legend
He is best known as Shred, originally his nickname and now a popular brand of skiing eyewear and other head gear. The Vail Daily kept on running the headline, “Ligety-split,” so much that the sports editor had to impose a ban on the phrase in print.
But to me, he’s Teddy Ballgame, a nickname that invokes Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter. I don’t think Ted Ligety could hit .406, but there was just something so clutch in an otherwise rather mild-mannered kid from Park City, Utah.
And so we heave a collective sigh as Ligety announced his retirement Tuesday. When he races his final GS in Cortina, Italy, at worlds next week, we all feel a little bit older as another terrific athlete who always shines in our memory leaves the sport.
We deal with a lot in greatness since somehow we’ve hit the skiing lottery locally with Lindsey Vonn, roughly followed by Mikaela Shiffrin. That’s a hard act to follow for any American racer.
In some ways, Ligety has always toiled in their shadows, more so Lindsey’s. It seems like Ted always won at Birds of Prey, which he did, but it took a while to start. From 2006-2009, Ligety lived with the fact that he had a little more than 2 minutes once a year to win on home snow.
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And during those four years, he came painstakingly close at Beaver Creek. He was 7-hundredths off and finished third in the 2006 GS (Massamiliano Blardone won, and I still love that name). Ligety was 15-hundredths of a second off the pace in 2007 and fourth with Daniel Albrecht — holy Birds of Prey flashback, Batman — winning.
In 2008, Benni Raich beat him by 1-hundredth. After three close calls, Ligety was fourth in 2009 by more than a second. (Carlo Janka; yes, we’ve hit Birds of Prey nostalgia overdrive.)
Remember that he was not the elder statesman of American skiing that he is today. He was a young guy, who had what seemed, at the time, like a fluky combined gold medal in the 2006 Olympics. He had only five career World Cup wins in five-plus years before Dec. 5, 2010, when he finally won here.
It was convincing, 0.82 seconds over Kjetil Jansrud and 1.24 ticks ahead of some guy named Marcel Hirscher. And, naturally, when he finally won, Vonn not surprisingly destroyed everyone up in Lake Louise, Alberta, that day. Ted and Lindsey had to share the front page of the Vail Daily. (I’m sure both lost sleep over that.)
When all the tributes are done — and there should be a ton — Ligety will best be remembered for his performance at the 2013 world championships in Austria. Three golds at worlds puts a person in some elite company.
Ted was the first man since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 to win three at world champs. That is a stunning sentence to write. (And, if you’re wondering, from World War II to 1980, the Olympics doubled as the world championships.)
The GS gold wasn’t a surprise. The combined was a mild surprise — it validated the 2006 Olympic gold. Super-G? OK, that floored everyone, even though Ligety had a tendency to do pretty well on technical, turny super-G tracks. (Birds of Prey, cough, cough.)
Worlds are funky coming every two years. One has to have the luck of being at the height of his or her powers in a now-odd numbered year and healthy simultaneously. Vonn is a terrific example of this. For all her greatness, she only won twice at worlds in her career, both in 2009 in Val d’Isere, France, in downhill and super-G.
While Ted was about to win three in 2013, Vonn’s knee exploded in Schladming’s super-G. One can only wonder what-if for Lindsey. Of course, Shiffrin still has a shot at the worlds triple in her career, but, even in 2018-19 when she was darn near invincible, she still came up short in Are, Sweden.
It’s not like two golds in super-G and slalom and bronze in the GS is a bad worlds in any way shape or form. It just shows how hard it is.
Rivalries are born of contrast and Marcel Hirscher and Ted Ligety, well, one would say apples and oranges, but actually, Ted’s an apple and Marcel’s a deli sandwich.
The first time I heard Ligety refered to as, “Mr. GS,” was in 2011 when Hirscher called Ted by the appelation. The funny thing was that Hirscher won that day’s GS — Hirscher won the Birds of Prey GS in 2011 and Ligety would win the same race a few days later when European races were rescheduled here.
Hirscher was doing his world renowned “Oh, gee, I have no chance against Ted/insert-the-name-of-any-good-skier-here.” shtick, which really did get a little old after the Austrian ended up winning 67 World Cups with all the other trappings of worlds and the Olympics before retiring two summers ago.
Ligety could not stand Hirscher’s routine and things got so testy that Ted accused the Austrian Ski Federation of canceling the Soelden GS in October 2017 because Hirscher had a broken ankle at the time. Ligety tried to walk that back as a joke. He wasn’t joking.
Yet they brought out the best in each other. By the 2015 worlds here in Beaver Creek, Ligety was nearing the end of his run, but he beat back Hirscher one last time in dramatic fashion for his third-straight world title, probably Ted’s most exciting race on American snow..
Doubtless, there will be plenty of opportunities for Ligety in retirement. He has been particularly outspoken in wanting skiing to embrace the next generation of racers. This came to a head/Head in 2013 when Ligety adamantly opposed FIS’ proposal to require longer GS skis.
Ligety argued — rightly so — that longer skis made it harder to turn — which was exactly FIS’ intention; Ted was dominating GS too much — and therefore, the sport was making it harder for kids to get into racing. FIS eventually relented on the GS skis.
It’s not hard to see Ligety becoming an advocate to the sport of skiing, which, let’s face it, needs some marketing help in being a more accessible and inclusive.
In the meantime, we look forward to Ligety getting a part of the Birds of Prey course named for him.Just as Daron has Rahlves’ Roll and Bode has Miller’s Revenge, Ligety is part of the course’s lore.
Ligety’s Left sounds good.
In the meantime, thanks for everything, Ted.