There are no sure bets in sports, but you could do a lot worse than predicting Ted Ligety will top the podium Sunday after the giant slalom, the third and final men’s World Cup race this weekend in Beaver Creek, Colo.
For starters, Ligety has won a World Cup giant slalom in three consecutive seasons at the venue. He’s also won two silver medals there with finishes that were just a wisp off the winning time.
Ligety’s 2012 victory at Beaver Creek was by a healthy 1.72 seconds, part of an impressive run of six victories in eight GS races.
Despite that level of excellence last season, the 29-year-old, who resides in Park City, Utah, told CBC Sports there’s room for improvement in even the best races.
“In a GS race there are 60-plus turns and they are all a little bit different,” Ligety said earlier this year. “If you are [starting] third or fifth the race is always a little different, every guy that goes down, it always changes. So I think, myself, I have never had a perfect run and if you ask [U.S. alpine skier] Lindsey Vonn she has never had a perfect run.”
Another reason to like Ligety’s chances this weekend is that in contrast to the women’s circuit — plagued by Vonn’s injury battles and the struggles of last year’s dominant champ Tina Maze — there have been no real surprises through four men’s races.
Italy’s Dominik Paris may not yet be a household name compared to some other skiers, but his victory in the Lake Louise downhill last week was his third in the last six World Cup downhills, dating back to Bormio, Italy, on Dec. 29.
Meanwhile, Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Marcel Hirscher of Austria have won races in the disciplines for which they were 2012-13 champs: super-G and slalom. Svindal won at Lake Louise and Hirscher in Levi, Finland, in October.
Ligety was the other unsurprising winner, taking the Levi giant slalom by 8-10ths of a seconds.
He was a whopping 2.7 seconds faster than the next best skier in last year’s Levi GS, which jumpstarted a 2012-13 season in which he won his fourth discipline title, but also managed a career best showing in super-G. He finished third in the overall World Cup standings, proving, if there were any doubt, that he’s not just a one-discipline pony.
Closing in on 3rd Olympic appearance
Ligety’s dream weekend came February in Schladming, Austria, where he won world championship races in slalom, giant slalom and super-G. He was the first skier to win at least three world championship races in a single event since Jean-Claude Killy, the legendary French skier, counted four wins in 1968.
“In a way I guess it puts more pressure [for Sochi] but in a way there is no more pressure than the pressure I put on myself,” he said.
Ligety’s Olympic experiences have not necessarily gone according to script.
He was 21 and without a single World Cup victory when he won gold in giant slalom at Turin in 2006.
Considered the favourite to win the giant slalom in Vancouver in 2010, he instead finished ninth. He also finished fifth in the combined.
They were respectable finishes, considering Ligety had torn his knee up a year earlier. But they left him with a chip on his shoulder that he still carries.
For Ligety, preparing for the Sochi Games won’t involve holding back in any of his World Cup races.
“I’m going to approach Sochi like I did the world championships this year,” he said. “I think the best way to prepare for the Olympics is having a great season leading up to it because that gets your start numbers the way you want to them to be.
"It gets your confidence going so I think it’s going to be, having a good World Cup season going into the Olympics, and then trying to treat it like a normal race.”