Ted Ligety joins elite company
Ted Ligety may have been the first American male ever to win a giant slalom gold medal in the Olympics, but when he returns home, he’ll be just the second resident of Park City to boast a GS gold.
In the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics, Norwegian skier Stein Eriksen, now, at age 86, the director of skiing at Deer Valley, skied his way to an impressive giant slalom gold medal.
But, much like Ligety, who saw a good portion of his first-run lead disappear in his second run, Eriksen experienced troubles of his own while trying to hold on to his lead.
There is a picture of Eriksen in 1952 that shows him in a position that would make one wonder how he won a gold medal.
Rounding a giant slalom gate, the then-24-year-old skier had both skis off the ground, almost losing his first-run lead.
So Eriksen, who also won the silver medal in slalom in Oslo, understands how fast a lead can evaporate.
"It comes to a point that you feel you’ve already won it, even when you haven’t crossed the finish line yet," he said. "Then, all of a sudden, a surprise says, ‘Wake up!’"
Eriksen saw one of those moments in Ligety’s second run, something he was watching intensely.
In a phone interview from his home in Thaynes Canyon, Eriksen described what he saw from the 2014 gold medalist.
"I have seen every inch of it," he said of the gold-medal run. "I think he was very relaxed, maybe too relaxed at the end of the second run."
Yes, Ligety fell after he crossed the finish line, mostly in celebration, but Eriksen referred to a turn higher up on the course, when the American had some trouble.
"He slipped a little further down than he wanted," Eriksen said. "But I was very impressed with the way he approached it – after that slip, there were no mistakes."
Eriksen, who knows exactly what kind of pressure Ligety was under during the giant slalom race, said Ligety’s determination and focus was praiseworthy.
"Once you have won a big international race [as Ligety did at the 2006 Olympics and the 2013 World Championships], you consider what brought you that far and you contemplate how to use that for your next big race," he said. "You try to repeat the routine that made you succeed the first time. You try to analyze what you did last time when you won a medal to figure out how to get another one."
The gold medal not only took a ton of pressure off Ligety, it also placed him among some all-time greats in the sport. He became the first American man to win a giant slalom gold medal and the first American male alpine skier with two gold medals.
"This was really the event that I wanted to win," Ligety told U.S. Ski Team representatives in Sochi. "To be able to pull down in that kind of pressure and to be up there with some of the greats is really an honor."
Eriksen, who has spent some time with Ligety when their paths have crossed in Park City, said he’s always been impressed with the way he handles success and expects the decorated skier to continue showing humility and grace.
"He has a very gentle, low-key approach to his success," he said. "That is what makes him a champion – the way he is able to handle success in a gentle, appreciative way."
After winning the giant slalom event in Sochi, Ligety indicated he’d like to stick around for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Though the Parkite has already secured his spot in U.S. Olympic history, Eriksen said he thinks Ligety should keep skiing as long as it makes him happy.
"Just have a good time and go for three gold medals," he said.
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