Ligety basks in a new light
With rugged good looks and a gold medal around his neck, Ted Ligety is fast becoming one hot commodity in today’s sports scene. Just just ask the 21-year-old alpine champion and he’ll tell you that he’s still the same old Ted.
"I’m the same, but the way people treat me is different," Ligety said.
And for good reason. Just two months ago he skied into America’s spotlight by winning gold in his first Olympic race the alpine combined on Valentine’s Day at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy an accomplishment that would soon prove to be the lone bright spot for the American men’s team at the Games.
Ever since, the Park City native has been living life a little differently. Currently he is spending time at home with friends and family and sorting through the numerous sponsorship offers he received after taking home the world’s most coveted sports hardware.
This past week he signed with Rossignol, a big move for the young man that should be the first of many big name sponsors. Ligety said that he had wanted to try other equipment after his contract with another ski equipment company expired at the end of the season and decided Rossignol was the right choice for him. Rossignol skis improved his speed and he also liked that Rossignol’s parent company, Quicksilver, basically covered the sports marketing spectrum.
"I think it’s a cool company to be with. I’m excited to make the switch," Ligety said.
The sports industry isn’t the only entity interested in the tow-headed U.S. Ski Teamer. The support of the Park City community both at the Games and since returning home has been overwhelming to say the least. Ligety says that people will recognize him at stores and around town and tell them how proud they are of his accomplishments. At the Games, his father Bill would report to him daily on the thousand of emails and phone calls that were pouring in sending words of encouragement.
"It was cool to see how many people were sending congratulations," Ligety said.
Although, Ligety is by nature a humble guy, he is appreciating the thrill ride that comes along with Olympic gold.
"I get recognized and that’s not a negative thing," Ligety says.
His new popularity means more sponsorships something crucial to any top ski racer.
"Sometimes those can be few and far between," Ligety said.
It also means greater opportunities to reach out and make a difference. This summer Ligety will travel to Ghana to help a Ghanaian ski racer teach about the sport of skiing to his country, as well as raise money for athletics there. In a few weeks, he will fly to Washington, D.C., to promote the World Wildlife Fund.
"That’s definitely one of the cooler things," Ligety said. "I get to do things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do before."
The fame has also afforded him the chance to meet a lot of famous figures. While still in Turin he appeared on the Today Show and Late Night with David Letterman. When he is in the nation’s capitol this month, he, along with the other Olympic medallists, will meet President George W. Bush.
Make no mistake, though, Ligety is a race junkie at heart.
"I would always rather be racing than doing media," Ligety said.
Ligety says that his storybook year came together early in the season. He already had a number of podiums heading into Turin and winning in his first event put his confidence at an all-time high for the rest of the Games.
Although he failed to win another medal, Ligety said the experience was amazing. At the moment he realized that he had won the gold in the combined event, he said things became almost surreal.
"It was weird feeling knowing you had achieved your goal you had always had your sights on," Ligety said.
After the results became official, Ligety says that teammates Steve Nyman and Scott Macartney tackled him and put them on his shoulders.
"You almost don’t realize it actually happened," Ligety said. "Once it happens, it’s a little weird. You are awestruck by what you achieved."
A little bit later he would run over to his moist-eyed parents and felt himself start to well up as well.
"That was the most emotional I was all night," Ligety said. "We were all close to tears. It was definitely great to share that with them."
The victory has also allowed Ligety time to reflect on what got him to the top. A "life-timer" on the Park City Ski Team, he recalled all of the inspirational coaches that helped him become the skier he is today.
"A lot of those coaches have been the most influential people in my life,’ Ligety said.
Ligety was definitely not the top prospect as he was coming up in the local program, but he says that made him successful.
"Not being the best guy was good for me," Ligety said. "It gave me more drive. I know how to work harder."
And it was this motivation to train constantly, lift weights and mentally prepare that Ligety still draws on.
"I’m definitely not satisfied," Ligety said.
Ligety still thinks about the gate he straddled in his best event, slalom, at the Olympics.
"Looking back I see a major opportunity lost," Ligety said.
And like the challenges of his youth, it’s these little glitches along the way that will keep Ligety wanting more on the ski racing circuit for years to come.
At the same time though, Ligety realizes that ski racing is an imperfect science reliant on weather, course conditions and physical health so he keeps his accomplishments and failures in perspective.
"It’s luck and x-factors. It’s not like basketball, where every court is the same. It’s a hard sport to regulate at performing at your best all of the time," Ligety said.
It’s this philosophy that also helped Ligety deal with the intense scrutiny on the U.S. Alpine team after their lackluster performance in the Games.
"We do what we can," Ligety said. "We’re not trying to not be the best in the world."
To him the "Best in the World," slogan is a great marketing tool that inspires the team to do their best and leaves it at that. He also says that the coaches buffer much of the interaction with the U.S. team administration, so the pressure is not nearly as intense as one might imagine.
In fact, he says that the American coaches have really been a stronghold for him and the rest of the team. At the elite level, coaching is more about making sure that the athletes are comfortable and psychologically prepared for competitions than working on skiing technique.
"The coaches have been a big help in what we’re doing," Ligety said.
Another source of support for Ligety has been his teammates. He says that unlike some of the European teams, the U.S. racers all want the best for each other. They share tips and secrets about performance and cheer one another on at competitions.
"As much as skiing is individual, I’d much rather be beaten by my teammates. Obviously we’re competitive, but at the same time we’re always supportive in that role," Ligety said.
Ligety also looks at his upbringing as the biggest secret to his success. Contrary to what some people might think, the Ligetys never pushed Ted to excel at skiing. It was always an enjoyable endeavor and he knew they would support him in any sport or hobby that he was interested in.
"They weren’t pushy parents," Ligety said. "It was something I did for fun and they supported me. That had a very positive effect on me."
Skiing was also the best choice for the Ligety family dynamic.
With two parents working full time in the real estate business, skiing acted as a baby-sitter and positive influence for young Ted. They would drop him off in the morning. He would spend the day on the hill and come home a happy kid at night.
"It kept me out if trouble while my parents were working," Ligety said.
It is also these influences that have given him a level head in the midst of all of his new found opportunities. He always wants more, but he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
After all, he’s still just Ted.
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.