Ted Ligety claims giant slalom at worlds

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Ted Ligety would never make light of an Olympic gold medal. He just finds his giant slalom world title more satisfying.

Here's the difference: When Ligety won the combined at the 2006 Torino Games he was a relatively unknown skier. On Friday, he was without question the one to beat, having opened the season with three consecutive GS victories.

"It's a lot tougher coming into a race or a championship knowing you're the big favorite," Ligety said. "Ski racing isn't always a guarantee like some sports, and it makes it that much more difficult. So to win being the favorite is pretty gratifying."

Cyprien Richard of France won the silver medal, 0.08 seconds behind, and Philipp Schoerghofer of Austria took the bronze. Bode Miller finished 12th.

Miller came to the world championships after having won three medals at last year's Vancouver Olympics. He left empty from his four events in Germany, acknowledging he's lacking motivation and considering retirement.

"I'm still always fired up and I always charge, but it's not the same as it should be," Miller told The Associated Press. "If you're racing World Cup and you're risking your health and everything you should be in it 100 percent. If it's not then you have to have the discipline and maturity to say when, because you probably shouldn't be doing it."

While Miller was stuffing his bag with a full array of medals in Whistler last year, Ligety was sulking. The skier from Park City, Utah, had placed ninth in GS and failed to finish his opening slalom run, with his best result fifth in the super-combined.

"The Olympics were pretty disappointing and I think that gave me a big motivation for this summer," Ligety said. "I was really physically fit compared to other years."

The U.S. coaching staff made a tactical change from the Olympics, sending Ligety to Reiteralm, Austria, for GS training during the middle of these championships.

"He went and made sure his setup was dialed. He took eight runs on a tough course," head coach Sasha Rearick said. "That was an important thing we learned from the Olympics he applied here.

"The other thing was going out and putting down his skiing, which is skiing with confidence, and that's what he did today and that's what he's been doing, especially in those first three races of the year -- he didn't think, he just skied," Rearick said.

With flat light for both runs, Ligety stood out with his fluorescent blue and green helmet and green poles. Fourth in the opening leg, he blazed down the Kandahar in the second run, skiing carefully but aggressively over a steep pitch midway down. He then backed into the protective padding in the finish before looking up to see where he stood, drawing a pole pump.

Ligety then watched as the final three racers failed to beat him, consoling first-run leader Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished fourth, with a handshake.

With his parents, Bill Ligety and Cyndi Sharp, watching, Ligety draped an American flag over himself. He took off his hat and with his long blond locks and scruffy beard stood atop the podium as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played.

Ligety became the sixth American to win both Olympic and world titles after Barbara-Ann Cochran, Phil Mahre, Picabo Street, Miller and Lindsey Vonn. And he has the confidence to win more, especially in GS.

"He should win. He knows he should win," Rearick said. "He's the best in the world when he goes clean and deep. As soon as he starts trying to control speed he enters in a realm where other guys have as much ability to ski. The main thing was just trusting yourself and going as hard as you can."

Miller led at the first checkpoint in the opening leg but then went down on his hip and lost about a second. He had the fastest second run, but as he himself acknowledged, "They don't give any prizes for that."

Miller's performance was similar to the way he raced his other events, aggressive and fast on top and then slower as he made his way down -- so slow that Rearick questioned his effort in some races.

"He came to ski fast, but maybe not to finish," said another of Miller's coaches, his uncle Mike Kenney. "I didn't see much good finishing power, but good starting power. ... He's in good racing form but maybe he needs to work a little harder on the physical form."

At 33, this may have been Miller's final major championship race. If it was any indication, Miller refused to give his race bib to a small child who asked for it.

"I'm keeping the number," he said, adding that he'll likely skip the upcoming World Cup races in Bansko, Bulgaria, and possibly the rest of the season for the third consecutive year.

"It's hard to tell," Kenney said. "It's day to day."

While Miller heads home to California to see his daughter and rest a sore back, Ligety is focused on Sunday's slalom, the event in which he first tasted success.

"I'm pretty motivated to get my slalom back to what it was a few years ago," he said. "I don't think I'm quite there this year, but I think I can get back to that."