KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) — Ted Ligety knew before the start of the season that a disputed rule change for giant slalom skis was going to have a major impact.
He didn't know it would make him more dominant than ever in the discipline — and help him defend the world championship title and win five of seven World Cup races so far. In 2011, Ligety led a group of racers who were fiercely critical of governing body FIS when it announced the changes in an attempt to make the sport safer and reduce the number of injuries.
However, Ligety found more speed on the longer and narrower skis than any of his rivals and wrapped up his fourth GS season title with a race to spare on Saturday by winning in Kranjska Gora. "It takes a little bit different technique," Ligety said. "A lot of guys are trying to ski like they did in the past but that makes them much slower in many conditions. I can ski pretty similar to the way I did before as my technique matches up better with these skis."
The skis were designed to slow racers down — although that hasn't worked well with Ligety. While races in the discipline are usually decided by fractions of a second, the American won the season-opener by a massive 2.75-second margin. Two of his other wins — in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and Alta Badia, Italy — were also by nearly two seconds, while at the worlds in Schladming, Austria, the best of the rest came 0.81 behind.
"Other guys will figure it out more next year," Ligety said. "I think especially guys like (Marcel) Hirscher and (Alexis) Pinturault should be able to make the next step. I don't imagine myself winning by two seconds on these guys like I have done quite often this year. Next year will be more normalized but I still think there are going to be bigger gaps ... just because of the new skis."
The president of the Austrian ski federation, Peter Schroecksnadel, once suggested Ligety must have been using some trick on the equipment others hadn't found yet. Ligety, however, denied there is any secret to his dominance in GS racing.
"My initial advantage was I didn't have to make big changes to my technique in order to keep gaining speed," he said, adding that copying his style won't work for others. "Hirscher and Pinturault are fast in a totally different way than I am. It doesn't make sense for them to change that. They are fast for different reasons. You can perfect that a little bit more, that's what you want to do."
The key to Ligety's skiing is his ability to constantly arch his turns near-perfectly where Hirscher, Pinturault and other competitors are lacking similar smoothness. "If you compare it to my turn, their turn is less complete in a way that they skip a part of it," the American said. "I do more arching top to bottom and I can do it in more spots than they can. But that makes me sloppy at times with my tactics because I can go five feet out of the gates where they are close on every single gate."
The new skis have a wider radius, meaning it's harder to make direction changes. A giant slalom run on the new equipment is more tiring for a racer than it was before. "It definitely takes a new level of fitness," Ligety said. "The skis take so much more energy to get the speed out of the turn. The little mistakes that would cost you a couple of tenths before, cost you half a second to a second now. So that all adds up to these huge margins. The way it currently is, these mistakes and the intensity level create a much bigger gap than before."