SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Ted Ligety will be the overwhelming favorite when the Olympic ski season opens Sunday with a World Cup giant slalom on Rettenbach glacier.
The American has won this race for the past two years and finished on the podium for the past five.
A year ago, Ligety didn’t just win, he dominated with a massive victory margin of 2.75 seconds. Taking advantage of extensive preparation on newly shaped skis introduced last season, he went on to win six of eight giant slaloms on the circuit.
“I hope to come close to that,” Ligety said Thursday. “But people have figured out the skis by now, and I can’t really expect to win GS by those kind of margins.”
Ligety also won three gold medals at last season’s world championships — a feat no man had accomplished since French great Jean-Claude Killy won four 45 years earlier.
While Ligety is hoping to peak for the Sochi Games in February, he also wants to win the overall World Cup.
Ligety broke the 1,000-point barrier for the first time last season but still finished third overall behind Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
“The overall challenge is going to be able to execute week in and week out,” U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said. “He was able to do that in GS consistently. Now it’s about taking that same kind of consistency into the slalom and super-G. Last year we saw a real, big gain in his super-G, and now we need to make that same jump in slalom.”
Ligety showed his super-G potential by winning that event at worlds, and his main emphasis in preseason training has been on slalom.
“Hopefully that’s the formula to win the overall,” he said. “The overall is every World Cup skier’s big goal and every year I round out my skiing. It’s not easy, though.”
To help Ligety achieve his overall goal, the U.S. squad has a special multi-event team of coaches to work exclusively with Ligety and fellow all-rounder Bode Miller, who is back after taking a season off to let his surgically repaired left knee fully heal.
“My knee is good. It’s a little puffy, but it’s been that way for a long time,” Miller said. “Overall it feels better than it has since ‘01.”
Because he sat out last season, the reshaped GS skis are completely new to Miller.
“It’s been difficult because I haven’t had a chance to ski at a very high level,” he said. “So when I got on the race hill here it was a bit of a shock. ... It’s less fun, more work, but it seems OK.”
Hirscher and Svindal are again the favorites for the overall title. Hirscher took the coveted crown the past two seasons and Svindal won it in 2007 and 2009.
Another overall contender could be Alexis Pinturault, the Frenchman who was sixth overall last season with three victories in three different disciplines: slalom, super-combined and giant slalom.
After Soelden, the World Cup goes to Levi, Finland, for slaloms Nov. 16-17, followed by stops in the United States and Canada before the traditional races in Europe.
The Sochi Games run from Feb. 7-23.