Created on Friday, 15 February 2013 Written by ERIC WILLEMSEN,Associated Press
SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Ted Ligety became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at a skiing world championships by blowing away the field in winning his favored giant slalom on Friday.
United States's Ted Ligety passes a gate on his way to win the men's giant slalom at the Alpine skiing world championships in Schladming, Austria, Friday, Feb.15, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
The American can match French great Jean-Claude Killy, who earned four golds in 1968, if he wins Sunday's slalom.
"I am super pumped. This is such a cool feeling," Ligety said. "I am glad I've done it ... it's been a dream for sure. It's been a really cool experience."
Defending champion Ligety, who also took the super-G and super-combined titles, built on his big first-run lead of 1.31 seconds with a fast start but cautious finish in the second.
Marcel Hirscher of Austria was 0.81 behind in second, and Manfred Moelgg of Italy took third, trailing Ligety by 1.75.
"This has been a crazy and unbelievable week. It's definitely far exceeded my expectations," Ligety said. "To win three gold medals here is awesome. It's a really cool feeling to join some of the legends of our sports."
Ligety is the first American to win two world GS titles, and has equaled Bode Miller's American record of four golds at the worlds.
"It's been pretty surreal," Ligety said. "I knew I had good chances of medals in those other two events but I didn't think the chances were gold-medal chances. So to achieve that this week it's been unbelievable. It's been by far the best week of ski racing in my life. So hopefully I can continue that streak and step up in those other events on a more regular basis.
"I definitely had a lot of pressure in the GS being the defending champion. With these gold medals it added a little bit of extra pressure for sure, so to live up to that is awesome."
Ligety, who smiled and closed his eyes several times while listening to the American anthem during the flower ceremony in the finish area, was widely praised by rivals and coaches.
"Ted is the man. He's the best in the world," Aksel Lund Svindal said. The Norwegian was second after the opening run but had only the 13th fastest time in the final run and was edged for third place by Moelgg by 0.04.
"It's not possible to beat Ted, I think," added Svindal, who won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G. "With two golds already in his pocket I bet he was fairly confident in the start."
Stephen Eberharter, the Austrian who won the 2002 Olympic GS, called Ligety's GS skiing "sensational."
"He completes these turns to perfection," Eberharter said. "He is unbelievably steady. And if he gets in trouble, he knows how to correct them immediately."
According to Alpine sport director Hans Pum of the Austrian ski federation, Ligety was "flying, not skiing. He goes from one victory to another."
"He's in very good form, he has a very good setup with the materials and he skis well," Pum said. "He got his first super-G win in the first race and then he just carried on. He's doing (whatever) he wants to."
After sunshine in the morning, grey clouds moved in and worsened visibility for the final run. In front of 35,000 visitors, Ligety increased his 1.31-second advantage over Hirscher from the first run to 1.68 before slowing down to avoid further risks.
"I wasn't easy. I took some risks but it was very difficult," Ligety said. "It was pretty dark and bumpy. I had several mistakes but I could afford them being 1.3 ahead."
Hirscher, the defending overall World Cup champion, posted the fastest time in the final run to win his second medal of the worlds after taking gold in the team event.
Hirscher hurt his lower back while GS training in nearby Haus on Thursday and had more treatment after his first run. The Austrian said he even considered skipping the race when he woke up at two in the morning.
"I wasn't sure if would make sense to race but I mobilized all energy in my body," Hirscher said. "Normally you would stay in bed. I had only had four or five hours of sleep. My neck also hurts ... it was difficult with the expectations. It was difficult to race and I am extremely happy with silver."
Hirscher was regarded as Ligety's closest challenger after beating the American in Val d'Isere, France, in December, Ligety's only loss in five World Cup giant slaloms this season. Most of the wins were by huge time differences.
"I've just had a good feeling on this hill and snow and I have high confidence," Ligety said, "so I think that helps me right now."