ALTA BADIA, Italy — Ted Ligety’s giant slalom skiing is so much better than anyone else’s right now that his rivals are studying his technique.
The American cruised to his third GS win of the season by a large margin Sunday after an opening run that left his fellow skiers in awe, giving the U.S. team two wins in two days.
Ligety sliced his way down the classic Gran Risa course in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 37.27 seconds. Defending overall World Cup winner Marcel Hirscher finished second, 2.04 seconds behind, and Thomas Fanara of France was third, 3.27 back.
“You can’t do anything at the moment. He’s way ahead,” former overall winner Ivica Kostelic said of Ligety. “You need a lot of work to do something like that, and a lot of talent as well.
“He’s skiing on the edge most of the time, and his angles are bigger than everybody else,” added Kostelic, who finished 21st, more than six seconds back. “With the way my knees are I can’t do that.”
Both Hirscher and Kostelic acknowledged that they have been studying video of Ligety. The highlight in this race was Ligety’s first run, when he posted a massive 2.40-second advantage over Hirscher.
“At the moment I’m happy to be two seconds behind Ted,” Hirscher said. “There’s not much more you can do to be competitive. We’re all looking to Ted. It’s perfect skiing. We’re all studying his lines.”
For all intents and purposes, the race was over after the first run.
“The first run was confusing for me and confusing for a lot of other guys,” Ligety said. “I had perfect grip whereas a lot of other guys were struggling with chatter. It was a bizarre margin for how it felt like, though. It didn’t feel like anything super special. I’ve skied better in training.”
In the second run, Ligety just needed to make sure he made no major mistakes in the second leg. He had a slight problem midway down in the second run, putting his left hand down on the snow, but quickly regained control.
“He is No. 1 in the world, but he’s No. 1 in the world by (a huge) margin,” said current overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal.
Steven Nyman, another American, won the downhill in nearby Val Gardena on Saturday, making it the first time two American men won races on consecutive days since Marco Sullivan and Bode Miller achieved the feat in Chamonix, France, in January 2008.
Ligety also won the first two GS races this season by large margins, finishing 2.75 ahead in Soelden, Austria, and 1.76 in front in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark set the record for margin of victory at 4.06 in 1978-79.
“Maybe the Stenmark record was in the back of my mind, but really I was just trying to go hard and make it to the bottom,” Ligety said of his second leg, when he was sixth fastest. “I definitely made some big mistakes, so I changed the tactics up a bit and I was happy to make it down. A couple times I had my elbows on the snow.”
Ligety’s first run drew immediate praise from his rivals on social media.
Swedish downhiller Hans Olsson wrote: “Just in: Marvel pictures are going to make a new movie about a superhero! Its not The hulk, Spiderman or Batman! Its about Ted Ligety!”
Nyman asked, “Best skiing……..ever?”
Both runs were held in perfect conditions, with clear skies and the temperature comfortably below freezing to make for optimal snow conditions.
Ligety also won this race — considered one of the toughest GS events on the circuit — two seasons ago. He was fired up after finishing third in the GS in Val d’Isere, France, last weekend.
With Svindal finishing ninth, Ligety narrowed the gap behind the Norwegian in the standings. Svindal now has 614 points, Ligety is next with 508 and Hirscher is third with 460.
Defending champion Massimiliano Blardone of Italy lost control when his skis touched toward the end of his run after posting fast times at each checkpoint. Blardone was aiming to match Alberto Tomba’s record of four wins on the Gran Risa. The way Ligety is skiing, though, the American may reach Tomba first.
“Ligety is a phenomenon,” Blardone said. “There’s little else to say.”
It was the 14th win of Ligety’s World Cup career, all in giant slalom. The Salt Lake City, Utah, native also won gold in combined at the 2006 Turin Olympics and another gold in GS at the 2011 world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Only Bode Miller (33) and Phil Mahre (27) have more World Cup wins among American men. Miller, who won on the Gran Risa in 2002, is still recovering from left knee surgery and has not begun his season yet.