SOCHI, Russia — Ted Ligety’s first Olympic gold medal in 2006 was such a gift it all but fell out of the sky from a gondola.
It was like a kid winning an Oscar without taking acting lessons.
Ligety was 21 in Turin, Italy, when he struck gold in the super combined, only because Bode Miller blew gold by missing a gate in his first slalom run and Austria’s Benny Raich blew gold by hooking a second-run gate within feet of the finish line.
Ligety’s second Olympic gold medal, won Wednesday at Rosa Khutor under postcard conditions, lifted the weight of his world.
It had gravitas.
Ligety did one of the hardest things you can do in sports: win at the Olympics when everyone expects you to win.
The best giant-slalom racer of his generation would have had to answer questions all the way through customs if he left Russia without the GS gold in his backpack.
Wednesday’s gold ratified Ligety’s greatness, justified his travails, silenced his critics and put his winless-Vancouver Olympics in the rearview mirror.
“I’ve answered Vancouver questions for the last four years,” Ligety said. “My best years have been since then, in a lot of ways because of that.”
His comfortable win by .48 seconds, with a two-run time of 2 minutes 45:29 seconds, completed Ligety’s legacy arc. Like a ski run, he rode the ragged edge from Vancouver to Russia before crossing the finish line to end all doubt.
French racers Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault won the silver and bronze. But this was Ligety’s coronation.
Miller, his teammate who finished 20th and 2.53 seconds behind Ligety, could only bow to the champion.
“There is no question who the best GS skier in the world is,” Miller said after what was likely his last Olympic race.
Because Ligety did what he was supposed to, he can be exalted as the first American male to win two Olympic alpine gold medals.
Ligety dominated the first run with a crisp, clean run and took a .93-second lead into halftime.
In GS, the order for the top 30 after the first run is reversed for the second run. Ligety would ski last among the leaders and know exactly where he stood before he left the start gate.
Ligety definitely took fewer chances on his second run but said, “There is no such thing as being completely in control in ski racing.”
Ted held the line. He gave away more than a second of his lead but still had .48 to spare.
Ligety knew he won when the scoreboard flashed “green” after his time.
Green, for Ligety, meant gold.