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February 19. 2014 4:18PM

Giant slalom

Ligety wins historic 2nd U.S. alpine gold in giant slalom; Bode Miller 20th

Bode Miller on his first run in the giant slalom during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center Wednesday. (Nathan Bilow-USA TODAY Sports)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia _ He hoisted the white skis that just carried him to victory high over his head, then spread his arms wide.

The celebratory "V" he inadvertently formed nicely encapsulated Ted Ligety's historic day.

The 29-year-old American, taking advantage of the perfect conditions these 2014 Winter Games had lacked until Wednesday, captured the gold medal in his pet discipline, the giant slalom.

In doing so, Ligety became the first American to win the event, which demands both speed and technical savvy, and the first male U.S skier to earn more than one Olympic gold.

Andrea Mead Lawrence won two women's events at Oslo in 1952.

"This is my first gold medal since 2006," said Ligety, "but it was easier back then (at Turin). I was only 21 and I didn't have all these struggles."

He was referring to his subpar performances in the super-combined (12th) and super-G (14th) earlier in these Games, failures he blamed in part on slushy conditions at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.

"The combined definitely was disappointing," said Ligety, a resident of Park City, Utah, "mostly because I could have skied a lot faster. In the super-G, I skied great but I made one big mistake."

He made none on Wednesday, building a first-run lead of nearly a second. He pulled back slightly in his second trip down the hill, finishing with a combined time of 2:45.29.

"If I hadn't had that buffer, it would have been tough to really throw it down as hard as you possibly could," he said. "I felt like maybe I backed off in some places too much. But I did what I knew I needed to do."

His time was 0.48 better than silver-medalist Steve Missillier of France (2:45.77). Another French skier, Alexis Pinturault (2:45.93), took the bronze.

Meanwhile, Ligety's better-known U.S. teammate, 36-year-old Bode Miller, finished 20th in what almost certainly was his final Olympic appearance.

Afterward Miller, who has a U.S.-record six Olympic medals, said his knee ached too much to allow him to compete in Sunday's final Alpine event, the slalom.

Despite his problems here, Ligety's victory was no surprise. He was the World Cup giant-slalom leader this season as well as its 2013 world champion.

"I think he's one of the best (giant slalom) skiers in history," said Miller. "He's just so much better at it than everyone else. He's consistent and he makes no errors."

As soon as Ligety crossed the finish line and spotted the "1" next to his name, he knew he'd triumphed. He did a 360-degree spin that delighted the large and noisy crowd, raised his arms and screamed.

Soon he found teammates to hug and Alex Hoedlmoser, a U.S. coach, to embrace.

"Ted trusts his own instruction," said Hoedlmoser. "He trusts himself. There have been lots of years of hard work, continually working day in and day out to get better."

At Turin, the relatively unknown Ligety came out of nowhere to win the combine. Four years later at Vancouver, with a higher profile and higher expectations, he was shut out.

Both, his coach said, were valuable learning experiences.

"Ted has the ability to evaluate his performances, good and bad, and put everything into what he's learned from them," said Hoedlmoser.

Now Ligety stands alone as the only American male with two Alpine golds. Miller, Phil Mahre, Tommy Moe and Bill Johnson all had one.

"It's an honor to be up there with some of the greats," he said.

For Miller, Wednesday's disappointment continued what has been an unsettling fifth Olympic appearance.

His performances were uneven. His surgically repaired knee problematic. And he broke down during a "Today" show interview when the conversation turned to the brother he lost to a brain seizure last year.

"(If he does retire), it will be a loss not just to U.S. skiing," said Hoedlmoser, "but to the ski world. Bode has brought fans into the sport. He is an inspirational skier and an inspirational man."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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