SCHLADMING, Austria - With Lindsey Vonn injured and Bode Miller already out for the season, it's Ted Ligety's turn to lead the U.S. ski team.
A day after Vonn's season-ending crash at the world championships, Ligety showed off his rapidly improving speed skills to win the first super-G of his career in the marquee event of the season.
The timing was not lost on the Park City, Utah, native.
"It's definitely (tough) losing those teammates that have been so good over so many years and really carried the flag of the U.S.," Ligety said. "It's tough losing them, for sure, but it's an individual sport, too. You're out there competing for yourself."
Building on his giant slalom skills, Ligety surprised even himself Wednesday. In front of a crowd of 24,000, he took a lot of risks in the turning final section and mastered the Planai course in 1 minute, 23.96 seconds.
Gauthier De Tessieres of France was 0.20 back in second in another stunning result, and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won three of the four World Cup super-Gs this season, was another 0.02 back in third.
Defending champion Christof Innerhofer of Italy finished 1.09 off the pace in seventh.
"Today was unbelievable," said Ligety, who was the 10th starter. "It was a nerve-racking 30 minutes, waiting for all the favorites to come down. (To) finally see (Svindal) come down right behind me was a huge weight off my shoulders."
Ligety made a super-G podium only once before, finishing second in a World Cup at Val d'Isere, France, in 2009. This season, he's finished fourth in two races.
"I am having a good year in super-G but I didn't think this was possible," he said. "I thought I had a chance for a medal. ... I knew I had to take many risks at the bottom to have a chance. I tried not to slide and to ski as clean as possible."
Ligety became the third American to win the world super-G title in the past 12 years after Daron Rahlves in St. Anton, Austria, in 2001 and Miller in Bormio, Italy, four years later.
The gold is Ligety's second worlds medal, two years after winning the giant slalom in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
It's also the second medal for the U.S. team this week, a day after Julia Mancuso placed third in the women's super-G.
Vonn's season ended when she tore ligaments in her knee and broke a bone in her leg in a crash Tuesday, but Ligety said that wasn't on his mind.
"It's very sad for Lindsey because she was doing great, but it didn't matter for my race," he said. "You have to move on. I am sure she will be back next year. As a ski racer, you can't let that affect you too much."
The course set with many turns suited Ligety's style of skiing. He usually arches long turns better than most of the speed specialists.
"He has been just charging and skiing clean as in GS, with the confidence to take it down the hill at super-G speed." U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said.
"He was able to hang tight with the best gliders on the top and took some time on them on the bottom," Rearick said.
Ligety trailed De Tessieres by 0.41 at the first intermediate time, 30 seconds into his run. He reduced the deficit to 0.06 over the next 30 seconds and beat the Frenchman in the bottom section.
De Tessieres, whose best super-G result on the circuit was eighth, had not qualified for the French team, but replaced Johan Clarey, who pulled out with a back injury Sunday.
"It's difficult to describe this week," De Tessieres said. "I hadn't qualified and got a phone call from the coach a couple of days ago and now I am here. I am so happy. It's amazing, a crazy story."
Several favorites led Ligety at the first split, including Austria's Matthias Mayer, Italy's Matteo Marsaglia and Innerhofer, and Svindal.
The course was set by Norway coach Tron Moger, who also placed the gates when Svindal won the super-G in Val Gardena, Italy, in December.
"I took a lot of risks and had a small mistake at the end," Svindal said. "The conditions were OK, but not ideal. With this (low) light, you don't see the bumps. I am satisfied. Ted did just great."
The world championships continue with the women's super-combined Friday.