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Is Ted Ligety the Best Men’s GS Skier in History?

After winning a gold medal in the giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Ted Ligety can certainly lay claim to being one of the greatest giant slalom skiers in history.

Is Ted Ligety the Best Men’s GS Skier in History?
Ted Ligety's first run in the giant slalom on Wednesday was flawless. Photo courtesy U.S. Ski Team via Creative Commons license.

For the past several years, Ted Ligety has had few equals when it comes to barreling down the mountain in giant slalom events. Since 2008, Ligety has been at or near the top in World Cup events. He captured the World Cup giant slalom title four times (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013) and also won a gold medal in the super combined and Super G events last year as well.

On Wednesday, Ligety became the first American male skier to win two gold medals when he finished on top in the men’s giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Ligety’s unique style was a huge advantage on the Rosa Khutor course, executing his turns brilliantly with a smoothness that was unmatched.

His USA teammate, Bode Miller, was effusive in his praise of Ligety’s performance.

''He carries so much speed and doesn't make mistakes. Those are the things that separate him,'' Miller said. ''Other guys carry speed for a couple of turns and struggle a bit. He just carries it smooth from top to bottom.''

That’s exactly what happened in the first of Ligety’s two runs on Wednesday. He blazed down the course under near perfect conditions—near-freezing temperatures, partly cloudy skies—with a time of 1:21:08. It was nearly a full second ahead of the next fastest skier, Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic.

With his second run, Ligety knew that he could actually relax a bit. He finished 14th in that second leg, but it was easily enough to keep his lead at the top for the gold.

"I've had a lot of races where I've had this kind of lead and a pretty good track record maintaining that and winning those,” Ligety told the Associated Press after his first run. “I know that I don't have to take the mega-risk.” 

"If I didn't have that buffer it would have been tough to really have to really throw it down as hard as you possibly could," Ligety said. "I felt like maybe I backed off in some places too much. But I did what I knew I needed to do to make it."

Ligety’s dominance in the giant slalom in recent years certainly puts him in the conversation as one of the best giant slalom skiers of all time, if not the best. Miller is one who doesn’t hesitate in putting Ligety at the top of that list.

"I think he's one of the best GS skiers in history," Miller said. "He's so much better at it than everybody else. ... He just is so consistent. He makes no errors. And anybody who's trying to cut off line just ends up making mistakes and it makes a huge gap."

It’s Ligety’s style that gives him an edge over most of his competition. While other skiers cut the gates closely and then have to use jerky motions to get back in position for the next gate, Ligety cuts a wider path and uses a more fluid motion in making his turns without cutting the gates closely. That style cuts a bit of a wider path, but all other skiers lose valuable time getting themselves back in position for each gate.

U.S. men’s skiing Sasha Rearick said that Ligety’s first run was completely flawless, and almost impossible for any other skier to duplicate.

''His first run was flawless, free. He trusted himself. It was his signature skiing,'' Rearick said. ''The second run was a strategic chess match, which he executed brilliantly.''

It’s that second gold medal that puts Ligety in elite company—no other American male skier has won more than one. But in giant slalom across the world, Ligety absolutely deserves the moniker as one of the best ever. 

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