Ligety’s big weekend caps up-and-down ride for U.S.

In this photo provided by Schladming 2013 Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, Ted Ligety, of the United States, poses with his 3 gold medals after winning the men’s Giant Slalom, Super Combined and Super-G at the Alpine Skiing World Championships,  in Schladming, Austria. (AP Photo/Erich Spiess, Schladming 2013)

From watching one of America’s best skiers ever suffer a season-ending crash to watching another make alpine ski-racing history, it’s been a roller coaster 10 days for fans of the U.S. Ski Team.

It all began, you remember, with Lindsey Vonn’s horrific crash Feb. 5 while competing in the first run of the super-G at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.

As low as that took us, we were brought to a breath-taking peak Friday when Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, skied circles around the best men’s racers during the giant slalom to win his third gold medal at the Schladming world championships.

The cyclone of emotions dropped faster than the housing market when videos of Vonn’s crash were broadcast, although some of the initial fear was allayed after her surgeon, Dr. William Sterett of Vail-Summit Orthopeadics, reminded us that A) knee injuries are not uncommon among competitive skiers; B) Vonn’s injury is not career-threatening; and C) he expects Vonn to make a full recovery.

“The overall success rate for ACL/MCL surgery is very good,” Sterett told the Associated Press. “Modern surgical techniques combined with aggressive rehabilitation will help Lindsey make a full recovery.”

So, we moped a bit during the week, although that was eased by watching Ligety unravel the rest of the men’s side of the ledger.

He rolled to impressive wins earlier this week in the super-G and super combined and then put his name in the world championships record book Friday when he put together two great giant-slalom runs, including a first run where he took a 1.31-second lead, to defend his title in that discipline.

He actually increased his lead to 1.68 seconds during a daring second run before finishing 0.81 seconds ahead of Marcel Hirscher of Austria.

With Friday’s win, Ligety became the first skier in more than 45 years, and the first American ever, to win three or more gold medals in one world championships.

What’s more, should Ligety win today’s slalom, he will match the four golds won by French skiing great Jean-Claude Killy in the 1968 world championships in Grenoble.

Before Friday’s race, only four men had previously won three or more gold medals at the world championships: Killy; Toni Sailer of Austria, who won four in 1956 and three more in 1958; Norway’s Stein Eriksen won three in 1954; and Emile Allais of France won three gold medals in 1937.

Ligety’s win Friday tied him with Bode Miller for the American record of four gold medals at the worlds. Miller won his at two different world championships: two in Bormio, Italy, in 2005 and two at St. Moritz in 2003.

And in a historical note, Ligety’s win came 31 years after American Steve Mahre also won the gold in giant slalom the last time the world championships were in Schladming.

While Ligety will look back at this year with fond memories, Vonn might wish to forget it.

It’s been a difficult year for the Vail athlete, who was off the World Cup race circuit for a month after being sidelined in November by an intestinal malady. She recovered in time to go into the world championships with high hopes, but her fall and subsequent recovery will keep her at least a year and three wins away from the record of 62 career race victories held by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria.

For his part, Ligety enjoyed a moment on the podium by taking a mock bite at one of his gold medals.

“This has been a crazy, unbelievable week, definitely far exceeded my expectations,” he said after his win Friday.

It’s a sentiment we all certainly share.


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