Washington: Against all the odds, reigning Olympic giant slalom ski champion Ted Ligety is grasping the chance to defend his crown after battling back from knee and back injury.
“I want to be where I was at my peak,” Ligety said ahead of the February 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Games. “I feel good about my skiing. I’m just not sure where my speed is.”
The 33-year-old American has won three world titles and five World Cup crowns in giant slalom after taking his first Olympic gold medal in 2006 in the combined event.
But Ligety hasn’t won a World Cup race since October 2015 at the season opener in Solden, Austria. In January 2016 he tore his right anterior cruciate knee ligament and missed the remainder of the season.
He returned in late 2016 but struggled with back pain and last January underwent back surgery, having a microdiscectomy on two vertebrae in his lower back.
“I was having shooting pain from my a** to my ankle,” Ligety said. “The back surgery was even more frustrating.
“I probably saw 10 different doctors and a lot of them were super anti-surgery. I was choosing something major to fix it but sometimes it’s the right option.”
Ligety was back training by last April and enjoyed World Cup finishes of fifth in Italy and seventh at Beaver Creek on home snow in December before finally standing on the podium again with a third placed finish in Garmisch just one week ago.
Missing two seasons of wear on his body has enabled Ligety to ponder extending his career to the point where he might attempt a fifth Olympic berth in 2022 at Beijing.
“I want to ski as long as I’m healthy and ski fast,” he said. “I’d be 37. That’s not impossible. I think there’s the ability of skiing that much longer and I’m a dad now. He’d only be four years old. He’s still packable.”
Son Jax was born last year and has lightened Ligety’s load during his comeback fight.
“Playing around with him and trying to make him laugh is fun,” he said.
Ligety, the first American male ski racer with two Olympic gold medals, became the youngest US man to take alpine gold with his Turin combined title 12 years ago, an early career success that changed his outlook.
“It gives you a different perspective for one thing,” Ligety said. “Faith is a more important thing. Your perspective changes a little bit. You don’t have to try and be a great ski racer but it gives you a greater sense of importance during training. You have something great to get back.”
He almost had to get back his Sochi gold medal before finding it in a search at his parents’ home.
“My parents have it hidden away somewhere,” Ligety said. “My dad lost it for six months. We rummaged through the house and eventually we found it. Where? His secret hiding place.”