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Ted Ligety Tames The Giant Slalom In Sochi


The U.S. has added another gold medal to its Olympic tally. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, this latest win comes courtesy of Ted Ligety and with it, he has cemented his place as one of the great giant slalom skiers.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Ted Ligety came into the second run of today's giant slalom competition with such a commanding lead - nearly a full second - that all he had to do was not mess up. He blazed down the mountain, though taking fewer risks than on the first run; making each turn with his aggressive and yet seemingly effortless style. When it was over, Ligety had what he came for - gold.

His lead, 48-hundredths of a second, certainly not the biggest he's had, but more than enough.

TED LIGETY: You know, the competitive side of me when I finish - cross the finish line seeing only 48-hundredths, was a little bit mad at myself for not pushing harder at some points, but all I really cared about was seeing a green light when I went to the finish line, whether it was a hundredth of a second or two seconds.

KEITH: This is Ligety's second gold medal. He won the super combined eight years ago. But at the Olympics in Vancouver, when expectations were high, he came up short. He didn't push hard enough to win. And that, he says, was a turning point. Coming into today's race, the pressure on Ligety was intense. Giant slalom is his event, but he hadn't been doing all that well earlier in the Sochi Games.

LIGETY: It's awesome to be able to come here and, you know, be able to compete and finally do it - and get the monkey off the back, I guess.

KEITH: Ligety has dominated giant slalom in international competition, and came into Sochi the one to beat. But as he knows better than most, that doesn't mean anything.

LIGETY: Ski racing is probably the least guaranteed sport out there, you know. It's really rare - actually, oftentimes - when the favorites win.

KEITH: The goal is to be out of control enough to go extremely fast, and in control just enough not to crash. Ligety, more than any other skier, has figured this out with a combination of finely tuned equipment, technique and strength. Just ask the skiers he beat. Tim Jitloff, from San Jose, Calif., finished 15th.

TIM JITLOFF: He's able to just risk it to the point and make turns that all of us are sitting there going, wow, I really wish I could to one of those. So - and he's able to do it the whole way down the course. It's not like it's three turns, or something like that.

KEITH: Jitloff compares Ligety to tennis great Roger Federer.

JITLOFF: I think it reminds me of like, when Federer was so dominant there for about four years. Everyone's like, what do you do? How do you beat him? I don't know. Obviously, super impressive.

KEITH: It's a question Austrian skier Benjamin Raich, who finished seventh, has been trying to answer.

BENJAMIN RAICH: Hard to say. I try a lot of times, but it's - up to now, it's impossible.

KEITH: Ligety says he plans to compete in the next Olympics four years from now, in South Korea.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.