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Ted Ligety wins GS at worlds again

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- Ted Ligety's mood in the starting gate? Tranquil, of all things.

This was his hill, after all. Didn't matter if he trailed his main rival. Make a clean run, a Ted Ligety-esque run, and just see what transpires, he reminded himself.

So Ligety did -- a remarkable, mistake-free final run that slid the American right into the record books. Ligety stormed back from a first-run deficit Friday to become the only man to win three straight giant slalom titles at the world championships.

Behind Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 0.24 seconds after the morning run, Ligety found speed down the course where others couldn't and finished in a time of 2 minutes, 34.16 seconds. Hirscher was second, 0.45 seconds behind, and Alexis Pinturault of France earned the bronze.

"To be able to come through and pull it off is awesome," said the 30-year-old Ligety, who's from Park City, Utah.

Like there was ever a doubt, even as Ligety trailed. Well, maybe a little.

See, Hirscher won three straight World Cup GS races entering this competition. And while this is Ligety's course, a place where he's won five World Cup GS races, including last December, Hirscher seemed well-positioned to spring the upset.

Or so it appeared anyway. But races like this are why Ligety's fellow skiers often refer to him as "Mr. GS." He's cool under pressure.

"Ted was, today, in his own league," said Germany's Felix Neureuther, who finished fourth, 1.10 seconds behind Ligety. "He's amazing."

With this win, Ligety, the Olympic GS champ from Sochi, cements his name among the legends of the sport. The only other men to win three straight world titles in any discipline are Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark (slalom, `78, `80, `82) and Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt (combined, `97 `99, `01).

Impressed to be among such esteemed company?

"I'm not somebody who worries about the statistics when I'm doing it," said Ligety, who won the 2011 world GS title in Germany and again two years ago in Austria, which was part of his three gold-medal performance. "It's cool to be able to achieve what I've achieved and be able to reflect back on those things later."

It took the ninth race into these championships, but the Americans finally captured that elusive first gold medal. The U.S. team has a good chance at another medal on Saturday as Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin competes in her signature event. Meanwhile, the Austrians bumped its medal total to nine, five more than the U.S.

Pretty much everyone figured some combination of Ligety, Hirscher and Pinturault would be on the podium. They usually are. That's the way it was at Beaver Creek in December, when Ligety won, Pinturault was second and Hirscher third.

"I think all the guys tried to push real hard today because after the first run it was really tight," said Pinturault, who's been sick this week. "But finally it was still Marcel, Ted and me."

The fifth racer out of the gate in the final run, Ligety didn't make a single miscue on terrain that suits his style of skiing so well. He pumped his fists again and again after finishing his run, knowing his time was going to be difficult to beat.

Pinturault couldn't match it. Neither could Neureuther or Italy's Roberto Nani.

The only racer standing in his way was Hirscher. But Hirscher steadily lost time throughout the course.

"My run was good. Ted's run was outstanding," said Hirscher, who's captured a gold medal in both the Alpine combined and team event at Beaver Creek worlds.

With his win secure, Ligety tossed one of his skis high into the air as the fans roared. He now has seven podium finishes at worlds, surpassing Lindsey Vonn as the American skier with the most individual medals.

"I love racing in the U.S." said Ligety, who had four screws inserted into his left hand after breaking his wrist in a training accident in November. "Just having that extra comfort level, being closer to home, with friends and family, is huge.

"I definitely knew I could do it. I feel I've been skiing better in the last couple of weeks than I had been. My legs were feeling it, but I knew if I backed off, I'd hate myself for a while. I knew I needed to ski as hard as I could."