Defending World Cup Giant Slalom (GS) champion and Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is part of the historic transformation of US alpine ski racing. Over the last several years the US has repositioned itself from having one or two stars a decade to a challenger of the world’s most dominant teams and arguably the best alpine squad in the world. This momentum built with Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn’s 2008 US sweep of the World Cup overall titles (the first in 25 years) and carried over to the 2010 Winter Olympics, where the U.S. Alpine Team nearly shut out the dominant Austrians from the top of the podium. Lindsey Vonn won gold and bronze, Julia Mancuso won two silvers, Andrew Weibrecht won a bronze, and Bode completed a grand slam, winning bronze, silver, and gold. The opening of the 2012 World Cup season has further cemented the US position, with Ted Ligety leading the charge. He and Lindsey swept the season openers, followed by wins of Bode and a first podium by 16 year old Mikaela Shiffrin. We caught up with Ted on his plans to win the GS title, thoughts on US alpine success, and NASTAR tips for us mere mortals.
SKI: You won the Soelden World Cup opener as defending GS champ, have two GS wins, are fourth overall and narrowly hold first place in GS standings. With two months left in the season what’s your strategy to win the GS globe and possibly overall globe?
TL: At this point I am starting to look less at the overall. I have an outside chance but unfortunately in slalom I am having a tougher time. I’ll definitely concentrate more on GS and maintaining my lead there. Hirscher is charging hard there as well. I have a small lead, but definitely can’t become complacent. I have to keep on skiing fast and faster. Every [GS] race I’ve been really close to winning, if not winning so I’ll be focusing a lot of my energy there.
SKI: The performance of the U.S. Ski Team right off the bat this year, added to the 2010 Olympics, puts to rest any doubt of a new position for the U.S. Alpine Team in the world of ski racing. The US has shown more success and depth than ever before. What do you attribute that to?
TL: I think a big thing is once we’ve had a little bit of success it leads to bigger things. When you’re training with the best guys on a regular basis it’s easier to figure out how to be among the best. For example, if I am skiing GS with Tommy Ford, Will Gregorak, and Tim Jitloff and they are able to ski my speed and keep up with me in training, I think that gives them a big gauge and platform to better themselves. You see those guys making big pushes there. The same goes for being with Bode and on the women’s side too. We have Lindsey and Julia and you can definitely see training with them propels those other girls. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. We’ve also been able to get some good training the last couple years. The Copper speed center should help us peak a lot more in the next couple years. It was tough earlier before the likes of Bode came around. We never had any pacing between ourselves and guys like him performing at the top of the World Cup. I think having that extra pace to train against has really helped us.
SKI: You’ve been training at Copper Mountain’s new speed training center and have scored points in four disciplines this year. Are you looking to become a five event skier?
TL: That’s always been my goal since when I first made the team. That’s obviously easier said than done; especially when you are young you and you need to focus on one discipline to break in. I’ve definitely been trying to move more in that direction without losing my tech events. It’s been fine on my GS but with slalom it definitely takes a toll if you are not skiing it a lot. Trying to ski speed and also stay in there with the best guys in the world in slalom is not easy. It’s a balancing act. I definitely want to be at a high level in downhill and Super G but I don’t want to spend so much time doing downhill and Super G that it takes away from the tech side of my skiing.
SKI: You’ve led athlete criticism of the governing body of ski racing’s (FIS) new rules essentially taking turn radiuses back to the 80s. Any new updates on FIS’ response?
TL: It been frustrating and we really haven’t made any progress. They don’t admit any of their wrongs in the whole process or situation. It’s obviously a very big issue. We’ve lost some momentum because a lot of athletes are tired of dealing with things. It’s kind of a losing battle unless we take drastic action. At this point the ski companies have started to make the skis. It’s in a tough place but we’ll ski on it. It’s not going to be as enjoyable or safe. It turns it into a bad aspect of the sport. It’s something that’s going to become reality for at least a year or two.
SKI: You are the best ski GS skier in the world and the new NASTAR Ambassador. What’s the simplest advice you could give NASTAR racers on GS training and racing for this year’s NASTAR Nationals?
TL: One thing I work on in my GS skiing is to arc as much of the course as I can. Right now at the world cup level we’re able to arc most of the courses. I think that’s one thing to focus on. Also, I am always working on flexing ankle and boot. That’s one thing that gets softer for people and they start to sit back. That’s definitely a fundamental thing that everybody can work on.
SKI: What’s Ted Ligety’s favorite thing to do on skis when not racing or training?
TL: Powder skiing. That’s the easy answer.