SCHLADMING, Austria — Ted Ligety is one win away from matching skiing royalty.
He’s already grabbed gold in the super-G and super-combined at the world championships in Austria. So if Ligety wins Friday’s giant slalom — the event he’s dominated all season — the American will become the first man to win three or more gold medals at a world championships since French great Jean-Claude Killy took home four golds in 1968.
“I did not expect to have two gold medals,” Ligety said. “I was hoping to get medals in the super-G and the combined, but I didn’t think they would be gold. So that’s definitely a pleasant surprise. But maybe that puts a little added pressure for the GS. We’ll see.”
Killy’s feat came on home snow in Grenoble in a year when the Winter Olympics doubled as the world championships. He swept gold in all three Olympic events — giant slalom, slalom and downhill — and was awarded another worlds gold for combined.
The only other three men to accomplish the feat were Emile Allais, the first great French skier, who won three events at the 1937 worlds in Chamonix, France; Norwegian pioneer Stein Eriksen, who took home three golds from the 1954 worlds in Are, Sweden; and Toni Sailer, one of the first great Austrian skiers who won four golds at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, which also doubled as worlds, and three at the 1958 worlds in Bad Gastein, Austria.
Ligety has won four of the five World Cup giant slaloms this season and is also the defending world champion in GS.
“Ligety is the perfect GS skier,” said Marcel Hirscher, the Austrian who leads the overall World Cup standings and the only skier to win a GS this season. “He has been everyone’s benchmark for five years now. I have tried to copy a lot from his style to get as close as possible to him.”
A victory by Ligety would also restore the U.S. to first place in the medals table. France moved ahead of the Americans when Tessa Worley won the women’s GS Thursday for her country’s second gold and fourth medal overall.
But it was a memorable day for the Americans, too, as teenager Mikaela Shiffrin finished sixth in her worlds’ debut. Shiffrin charged to fifth in the opening run with the No. 16 bib, then had another error-free trip down in the second leg. The only time she looked like a rookie came when she stopped to take a photo of the 30,000 fans in the finish area with her iPhone.
Besides the crowd, it felt like any other race for the 17-year-old Shiffrin.
“In the end it was just me and my skis and red and blue gates,” she said.
Shiffrin has won three slaloms this season to lead the discipline standings but she had never finished higher than eighth in a GS. Next up for the high school senior is her main event, Saturday’s slalom, and Shiffrin indicated she wouldn’t be happy with sixth.
“Every race, whether I do poorly or I do well, I always want more,” she said. “So I’m going to be looking for a lot.”
Sponsored by Italian pasta maker Barilla, Shiffrin’s diet lately has consisted of mainly pizza and pasta. She eats pasta two days before races and pizza the night before.
“A couple weeks ago I was training three days in a row and I had pizza each lunch the day before the training and I had a lot of energy for the training, so I was like, ‘Pizza!,’” Shiffrin said with a laugh. “I’ve heard that carb-loading the night before the race doesn’t really work, but (the pasta) was more like two nights before, so it was perfect timing. I planned that out.”
While the super-G course suited him, Hirscher kept with his plan to skip the opening week of the championships. His first event was Monday’s team event, when he led Austria to gold.
“I have got my medal,” Hirscher said. “That doesn’t mean that I can go home now, but I am a little bit more relaxed. The pressure is lower.”
Still, skiing is the top sport in Austria, Hirscher is currently the sport’s biggest local star and he’s competing on some of the slopes he grew up skiing on. Fans are hoping that he’ll sweep the technical events and that he — not Ligety — ends up with three golds.
“I could do it and I hope for it, but there is no master plan,” said Hirscher, who missed the 2011 worlds with a broken ankle. “I’m not a machine and I’m not a Swiss watch.”