LA VILLA, Italy – Now that Ted Ligety is charging again after two injury-riddled seasons, the American giant slalom specialist is playing catch-up with his technique.
The Utah skier showed that he’s making big strides with a fifth-place finish in the challenging Badia GS on Sunday for his best result in more than a year.
“It was better, nice to be in the top five,” Ligety said. “I definitely want to be a few steps faster than that. Marcel (Hirscher, the race winner) definitely skied very impressive that second run so we’ll have to watch that a little bit.”
While it used to be Ligety who other skiers studied in GS – after all, he was known as “Mr. GS” after winning three straight world titles in the event and the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games – Ligety is now dissecting Hirscher’s style.
Specifically, Ligety has been trying to mimic how the Austrian maintains such a straight line while skiing cleanly at the same time.
“We’re always working on something,” Ligety said. “Sometimes people perceive me going rounder than I really am but if you actually measure distance it’s probably not that different. But I definitely need to make a step forward in the skiing.”
When Ligety was dominating GS, his big advantage was that he skied cleaner than everyone else. He took wider turns but gained time because of his smoothness and sharp angle to the snow – grazing his hips, legs and gloves along the surface.
“His rhythm and timing with the fall line was better than anyone else,” U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick explained. “It wasn’t the straightest line but he was making up time by being cleaner and still executing the pressure on the fall line every time. Now guys are doing those two skills but have added going straight and cutting distance.
“That’s where Ted is going to have to adapt his tactics – being a little bit more aggressive and skiing a straighter line with a shorter arc,” Rearick added.
A rule change introduced for this season reduced the radius for GS skis, making them easier to turn.
Ligety had been the pioneer at figuring out the skis with a bigger radius that were used the past few seasons. Now he has to adapt again.
“In the last two years when Ted’s been out, guys were able to figure that part out,” Rearick said. “They were getting close to it and now with the equipment change they’ve been able to really dial that in. That’s where the sport’s evolving to and Ted has got to evolve there. I really think that he understands that now and is in a good place to know where he has to go.”
Ligety showed off his balance on the Gran Risa course with an expert recovery toward the end of his second run, enabling him to move up from seventh after the opening leg.
The result was a big relief after all the damage that Ligety’s body has been through.
Since his last win in Oct. 2015, Ligety has tweaked his back, frayed the cartilage in his hip, torn the ACL in his right knee and wrenched his back again – to the point where he needed season-ending surgery last January to fix herniated disks.
Finally, he feels healthy again.
“Having two years of being injured, it’s hard to get the race sharpness back right away,” Ligety said. “I feel like I’m getting a little bit better at that but I still need to get that last little intensity.”
Ligety’s aim is to get back into the top group of the GS rankings before he attempts to defend his Olympic title at the Pyeongchang Games in February. That would provide him a cleaner course and fewer ruts to negotiate.
For now, Ligety is in the second group, which is why he had the No. 14 bib Sunday.
“That’s No. 1 goal – top seven by Olympics,” Rearick said.
Besides GS, Ligety is also aiming for an Olympic medal in combined, the event he won way back at the 2006 Turin Games.
“Combined and maybe super-G. Slalom is actually surprisingly feeling pretty good, so we’ll see,” he said. “It’s the best I’ve felt in probably 10 years.”
On Monday, Ligety will compete in a parallel GS race in Badia. Then he’ll go home for a break to spend time with his newborn son, Jax, and wife, Mia.