PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The timing of Ted Ligety’s Olympic GS run seemed too good to be true.
And, as it turned out, it was.
The man nicknamed Mr. GS for his dominance in the alpine discipline not only failed to defend his 2014 Olympic gold, he finished so far from the podium, he wasn’t even the top American finisher.
"The first run I didn't ski with anywhere near the intensity, the cleanliness and the attack that I needed to," Ligety said after finishing with a combined time of 2:21.25 — more than three seconds slower than gold-medalist Marcel Hirscher, whose combined time over two runs was 2:18.04. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen earned silver, while France’s Alexis Pinturault earned his second medal of the 2018 games with a bronze (2:19.35).
“It ran a lot easier than I anticipated,” Ligety said after the first run. “But I didn’t attack as I could have or should have. No real explanation for that. I thought it would be a little bit more challenging than it was.”
Hirscher, representing Austria, claimed gold in the combined race, and he is the reigning giant slalom world champion.
Ligety won his first World Cup podium at the YongPyong Alpine Center 12 years ago to the day. It came when the Park City native was 21 years old and had just won his first Olympic gold medal.
Interestingly, both of the men he stood on the podium with that day in 2006 are retired. But on Sunday afternoon, Ligety didn't have the speed - or a lot of insight into what happened.
"The second run I tried to step it up," he said. "I just didn't have the speed in me today. It's an unfortunate day to have a bad day."
Ligety has been recovering from injuries this season, but earned a podium in Garmisch, just before coming to Pyeongchang for the Olympics.
Hirscher was the favorite to win Sunday’s race, and he didn’t disappoint, offering textbook runs.
“Hirscher crushed it for sure,” Ligety said. “He’s been good all year, so it’s no surprise. But for me, I’m out of it.”
Ryan Cochran-Siegle was the top U.S. finisher with a combined time of 2:20.74, tying him for 11th place.
When asked about the struggle of the U.S. men in the alpine races he said injuries and the realities of ski racing account for the lack of medals for the men in Pyeongchang.
"Ski racing is such a tough sport to really predict and truly plan for," he said, "because you have such a small window of opportunity to show what you've got. I have been skiing with podium speed, and I felt like I was a potential competitor. We've had a lot of injuries on the speed side, and it's hard to plan for all of these things."
Ligety knew he was out of the medals after his first run, but he attacked his second opportunity on the course, hoping to pull off the unexpected.
“My goal was definitely to try to be challenging for a medal here and I thought that was definitely within my range, but I’m way out of it now.
“I was really surprised when I saw the time. It didn’t feel as if I had crushed it but it didn’t feel two and a half seconds bad."
And then he laughed.
Sunday, unfortunately wasn't just Ligety's best chance at a medal, it was his last of these games. "This is probably it for me these games," he said, noting that he'd discussed it with coaches, and starting after 70 or 80 skiers wasn't something he wanted to do. "I'll probably just head back to Europe now and get back to World Cup."
Ligety was asked if he had another Olympics in him, and the only thing he made clear is that he's made no decisions. There are things to consider, he said, besides chasing more Olympic hardware, referencing his wife and seven-month-old son, Jax.
"Another Olympics? We'll see," said the man whose become the face of the U.S. Ski Team in recent years. "I'm 33 so 37 isn't too crazy old for competitive ski racing. There's a chance, but we'll see."