Ted Ligety dominated last season on a new shape of giant slalom skis that he pretty much detested and frequently disparaged.
Even now, after winning six of eight World Cup giant slalom races last year – by whopping margins, too – and capturing yet another overall title in the discipline, the U.S. skier’s stance has hardly thawed.
Ligety wasn’t a big fan of the rule change to alter the hourglass shape of the skis before last season and won’t change his mind just because he’s winning.
Sure, he quickly adjusted. And, yes, he will be the heavy favorite in the giant slalom heading into the Sochi Olympics in February.
But he remains critical of the decision by the International Ski Federation (FIS) to meddle with the shape of GS skis.
“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have FIS making ski regulations,” Ligety said by phone Tuesday. “I don’t think they really know what they’re doing in that regard. They’ve made skis wider, thinking that’s safer. Then, more knee injuries happened. They made skis with more radius, but it doesn’t change anything. They keep making rules hoping they’ll eventually find something.”
In Ligety’s opinion, the recent alteration of the skis only made them much more difficult to carve sharp turns, not safer.
“And way less fun,” Ligety added.
Been asked by anyone to tone down his comments?
“I think I’ve been told I can speak freely,” he said.
So, he has.
At the U.S. Olympic Committee summit last week in Park City, Utah, his hometown, Ligety said: “Part of the problem with FIS trying to make the sport safer with equipment is that ski racing is inherently dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you have wood skis on or carving skis on.”
Regardless of the shape of the ski, Ligety is simply at the top of his game at 29. He is coming off quite a season, one in which he won three world championship titles in Schladming, Austria, and finished third in the World Cup overall race.
There was a time not so long ago when Ligety was viewed as a specialist and not really a factor in the speed events. He’s changing that perception, turning in three top-10 finishes in the super-G last season.
Over the off-season, he devoted even more training time to the slalom, believing that could be the way to dethrone reigning champion Marcel Hirscher, of Austria.
“It’s not an easy feat by any means, but I think it’s something that’s doable,” Ligety said of his overall title aspirations.
Later this week, Ligety will head over to Soelden to prepare for the season opening race at the end of the month.
It’s a giant slalom race, too, one that he’s captured the past two seasons.
“Soelden has always been a hill that’s treated me well,” Ligety said. “I feel like I’m in a good place with my skiing.”
That was evident by his performance at world championships last February, when he became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at the event. The last person to do so was French great Jean-Claude Killy, who took home four golds in 1968.
“What I did at world championship was really awesome,” said Ligety, who secured his fourth World Cup giant slalom title last season. “That was a dream world championship, for sure.”
A lucrative one, too. Ligety landed quite a few new big-name sponsors after the season, including Vicks, Coke, Kellogg and Citigroup.
“They’re interested in athletes that have good medal chances,” Ligety said.
And he definitely does at that in Sochi, possibly adding to the gold he captured in the combined at the 2006 Turin Games.
“I’m happy to have a target on my back, I guess,” Ligety said. “It means you’ve done well in the past. So that’s a good sign.”
This should help: He’s familiar with the hill in Sochi after training on it several times. He compares the course to the one in Beaver Creek, Colo., where he’s won the last two giant slalom races.
“Definitely a good hill for me,” Ligety said.
As for his plans leading to the Olympics, Ligety intends on skiing as many World Cup races as he can, but may skip some downhills.
“The best way to have a good Olympics is just having a good World Cup season,” Ligety explained. “If you start taking races off here or there, and it doesn’t work out in the Olympics, you kind of ruined a season.
“It’s best to focus on the World Cup stuff before the Olympics happen. That way you’ll be best prepared for the Olympics.”