KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Ted Ligety, his family, his friends, his coaches and his fans all breathed a collective sign of relief.
Ligety demolished the competition and won the gold medal Wednesday in the discipline he dominates on the Alpine skiing World Cup circuit.
It’s what everyone expected to happen.
But ski racing, being ski racing, is unpredictable. A straddled gate could mean four more years of heartbreak; four more years of questions, the same he has faced since his ninth-place giant slalom finish in Vancouver.
“It was pretty hard to watch,” said Ted’s father, Bill. “The expectation was so high, and in ski racing it’s so easy to have little things go wrong.”
“It was very exciting, but it was very nerve-racking,” said Ted’s mother, Cyndi Sharp.
Ligety skied to a lead of 0.93 seconds in the first run, and skied a solid second run to take the gold by 0.48 seconds at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
“It was a huge relief,” Ligety said. “I’ve been waiting to win this medal for my whole life. … All season long, everyone talks about the Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. At a certain point, I was like, ‘Let’s do it already. Let’s just get this thing over so we can stop talking about the pressure and everything with it.’ It’s awesome to be able to come here and be able to compete and finally do it and get the monkey off the back.”
His coach, Sasha Rearick, echoed Ligety word for word: “To be honest, it’s a huge relief.”
Ligety, a 29-year-old Park City, Utah, native, becomes the first male American Alpine skier to win two golds. He also won gold in the super combined in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
He failed to medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010, and he has said that was motivation to never leave any time on the hill — to always ski to his full potential.
Since then, he has won 15 of the 31 World Cup giant slaloms.
He has now won the last three major GS races, including the 2011 and 2013 World Championships.
“He’s shown for several years that he’s the best GS skier,” said teammate Bode Miller, who finished 20th.
After two days of heavy fog, rain and snow — the women’s giant slalom race Tuesday was run with heavy rain at the base — the skies cleared Wednesday.
Steve Missillier, of France, won the silver medal and Alexias Pinturault, also of France, got the bronze. Ligety’s GS rival, Marcel Hirscher, of Austria, ended up in fourth place.
Among the other Americans, Tim Jitloff was 15th and Jared Goldberg was 19th.
“It’s my first time running an Olympic event,” Jitloff said. “No question I think about all the people that are supporting you and sending you little messages, wishing you good luck, and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ A little different than a World Cup, obviously, but I’m psyched for Ted. It’s really special that an American wins the event.”
Ligety’s closest competition on the first run, Stefan Luitz, straddled the last gate and was disqualified. The next closest competitor, Ondrej Bank, was nearly a second slower than Ligety after the first run.
“Having a buffer was definitely was nice,” Ligety said. “It definitely took a little anxiety away form second run knowing I could play with some times and didn’t have to take any huge risks in places that could be really costly.”
Ligety’s gold is the first for the U.S. Alpine squad in Sochi, and its fourth medal in these games.
“That’s what makes the Olympic special, is where somebody like Ted, who clearly has been the best giant slalom skier in the world for the last four years, and still at the end of the day has to come here and win an Olympic medal to sort of validate everything,” said Bill Marolt, CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.