Ligety emerges as contender for overall title
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By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- So efficiently, Ted Ligety weaved his way through a giant slalom course filled with deep ruts ready to swallow up his skis.
And so effortlessly, the U.S. skier gained speed with each gate he buzzed by on his way to the finish line at Beaver Creek.
Lately, it's not a matter of whether he will win a GS race, but by how much. That's how dominant he's been in the discipline, winning Sunday by a massive margin of 1.76 seconds.
This was his second straight lopsided GS victory, too, leaving the field to wonder how to catch him -- or even if they can.
Wait, there's more. The technical specialist known as "Shred" has been swift in speed events, too.
So much so that all eyes are on him as he's steadily emerged as an overall title contender. Keep this up and the crown belonging to reigning champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria may be in jeopardy.
"At the moment, it is very, very hard to beat Ted," said Hirscher, who finished runner-up Sunday on the tricky Birds of Prey course.
To think, the prevailing perception of Ligety coming into the season was this: Exceptional giant slalom tactician. But hardly a realistic title contender.
With every run he takes, though, Ligety is rapidly changing that notion. He now trails overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by only 80 points.
No one really figured he would be this close after seven races.
No one except for himself, of course. A rigorous offseason fitness program and plenty of training passes on the slopes in Chile put him on this path.
"Winning the overall has been a big goal of mine since I started ski racing," the 28-year-old from Park City, Utah, said. "And it is attainable."
But it won't be easy with the way Svindal's skiing right now. The powerful Norwegian is always near the top of the leaderboard in every race. So far this season, Svindal has won two competitions and placed in the top 10 in three more.
"If he keeps that up, Aksel's going to be near impossible to beat," said Ligety, who won Olympic gold in the combined at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Then again, if Ligety maintains what he's doing in the GS, he could be as well. He's certainly been the quickest to master the new skis.
The International Ski Federation changed the hourglass shape of the GS skis this season to make the discipline safer. And no one has taken to the new setup better than Ligety, who's won both GS races this season by a combined margin of 4.51 seconds. That's a landslide in skiing.
"Ted is on another level," said Italy's Davide Simoncelli, who finished third in the GS on Sunday. "We just hope that he'll make mistakes."
Ligety's supremacy in the giant slalom is almost to be expected. He did win two straight discipline titles, before Hirscher snapped the string last season.
What's different, though, is Ligety's increased speed in other events. He took fourth in a super-G race at Lake Louise, Alberta, and matched that in Beaver Creek over the weekend.
This has caught Svindal's attention.
"I think he's starting to look more and more like one of those three or four guys who will be there all the way until the end," Svindal said. "He's a good skier and good skiers tend to also be able to ski fast in all events."
Svindal's also sharing trade secrets with Ligety since both are wearing skis and boots provided by Head.
"Every research I do, he gets to know about. Every research he does, I get to know about," Svindal said. "In a way, you're helping your competitor."
Even then, Svindal can't catch up to Ligety in the giant slalom. No one can.
"He is the fastest GS skier right now," said Hirscher, who's currently third in the overall standings as the race circuit heads to Val d'Isere, France, for giant slalom and slalom this weekend. "He should ski two or three gates more than the other skiers."
To be a bona fide contender, Ligety acknowledged he must beef up his other events.
"Ted has the ability to ski all events, which puts him in the class where he can accumulate enough points," U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "But we still have a lot of work to get there. We have to be more consistent in the slalom. There's a lot of work to do in terms of the downhill and the super-G, just to learn to read certain parts of the hill better to carry more speed.
"And he has to maintain where he is at the top of world in GS, because the rest of those guys are going to figure out how to shave time off the hill to try and catch up to him."
What does Ligety think of his chances for an overall crown?
"I'm right in there right now, but we're a long way off," Ligety said. "If I can keep this momentum going, I have a decent chance."
Pat Graham can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pgraham34
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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