A week before Ted Ligety makes his way to the start gate of the giant slalom world championship in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, he announced the race would be the final of his storied 17-year career.
The Park City native and two-time Olympic champion discussed his career highlights and his decision to retire in a lighthearted, emotional video press conference Wednesday morning. It included some questions that turned into tributes from teammates and former competitors.
One of those was teammate Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who asked Ligety what he thought his legacy would be in the sport.
“It’s hard for me to say what my legacy is,” Ligety said. “I think it’s hard for somebody to write their own legacy. Hopefully I inspired kids to push hard and ski fast and love the sport of ski racing more and, you know, go their own path and try to ski differently, try to ski the way they wanted to. Hopefully, I helped make them think ski racing was cool, or think it was something to pursue.”
Ligety’s accomplishments are among the best of any U.S. man in the history of Alpine skiing. He won two Olympic medals, five world championships, three world GS championships, five GS titles, had 336 world cup starts, 25 world cup victories, and 52 world cup podiums across five disciplines.
Ligety’s success in multiple disciplines was one of the most impressive aspects of his career. His versatility made him stand out even more as he competed in a sport that rewards specialization. That was never highlighted more spectacularly than in the 2013 world championship.
A critic of the FIS equipment changes that season, he made history when he won three medals in one championship for the first time in 45 years. He won the super-G, then the super combined, and capped it off by defending his title in the giant slalom.
“I never wanted to be pegged as a one event guy,” Ligety said. “Giant slalom was far and away my best discipline. ... But to be able to get on the podium in all those events and win those three events in one world championships is is pretty surreal, and one of the most proud things my career.”
A former competitor, Felix Neureuther of Germany, joined the call with the title of “Stenmark true GS God” to wish Ligety well and tell him to continue staying in shape.
“I just want to say thanks,” Neureuther said. “What a time we had, and really, I appreciated every second with you my friend.”
He wished him well in his final race, and then added, “For me, you’re the best GS skier ever. So now before I start crying, I have to get going.”
Ligety’s career has been full of surprises, disappointments and some of the most impressive Alpine skiing in the world. He won his first gold medal at his first Olympics in 2006.
“I was psyched just to go to the Olympics,” Ligety said. “Two years before that, I never would have guessed I’d be going to the Olympics. I was just excited for the experience. ... I was doing really well in the slalom, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d walk away with a gold medal in the combined.”
Cochran-Siegle then told Ligety what it meant to be able to ski with and learn from one of the best to ever ski for the U.S.
“You’re such a huge leader of our team, like not just tech guys, but I think the entire team,” he said. “I mean, the wisdom that you kind of dispelled on all of us, we definitely were all better skiers because of it. And we wouldn’t be here without you. So I mean, it’s just a huge thank you from our entire team with the role model that you were your entire career. You’re a spectacular ski racer, but you’re also a spectacular human being. And I think we all really appreciate what you’ve been able to accomplish — on and off the slopes.”
Ligety revolutionized giant slalom skiing in the era of daunting equipment rules. When many skiers were complaining about FIS equipment changes, Ligety was outspoken.
“I’ve always been opinionated and at times outspoken person about things that I disagree with,” he said. “At the time, FIS made rules that didn’t make any sense for our sport, under the guise of science, no athlete input. ... I didn’t talk to a single athlete who thought it was a good idea. I felt like I had to speak to that because nobody else was.”
He said taking that stand was “instrumental” in the evolution of his career because he pushed himself even harder on the slopes.
While competing on the grueling world cup circuit, Ligety founded a helmet and goggle company (Shred Optics) that has sponsorship arrangements with dozens of Olympians.
Ligety started the press conference choking back emotion as he tried to express his gratitude for those who’d helped him achieve all that he had on the slopes and in life. He referred people to a lengthy post on Instagram where he listed dozens of people to whom he felt immense gratitude, but he started with his family.
“First off, my parents, thanks for teaching me the value of hard work, independence, ownership and being supportive in letting me follow my dreams,” he wrote. “My wife Mia, you have made my life better in every way, best mother ever, best life partner in crime. My boys Jax, Will and Alec, you guys have put life in perspective, and I can’t wait to watch you guys grow up.”
Ligety said it is his family who will become the focal point of his future.
“Spending time with my family is definitely going to become the priority now,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to spending more time at home freeskiing. ... I look forward to spending a lot more being more even involved in my business, Shred. I still do a lot of stuff with my sponsors, you know, trying to create cool content around skiing. It’s something I’ve always tried to do.”
He said if he can continue to play a role in bringing respect and fun to the sport he loves, “that’d be awesome.”