Alpine skier Ted Ligety enters the Pyeongchang Olympics as one of the strongest competitors for Team USA, and his journey to his fourth Winter Games hasn't been an easy one.
Qualifying for this year's Winter Games didn't come as a surprise to Ligety who said he "kind of knew all along" that he would make it to Pyeongchang, but it wasn't without some adversity as he battled through three surgeries over the past three years.
He broke his hand and then the following year he blew out his knee, ultimately cutting short his season. He then underwent back surgery just a year before the 2018 Winter Games. Despite the setbacks, Ligety says he's entering this Olympics healthy with all of the injuries far from his mind.
"That was frustrating, but that's also part of the sport. It's a sport where you know there's a lot of injuries. It can be dangerous. It can be hard on your body, but right now I'm feeling healthy," Ligety told Omnisport in an interview arranged by Rockin' Protein. "It's been a bumpy couple of years, but I'm feeling healthy. I feel like I'm skiing well, so I'm really looking forward to these Games."
Ligety, 33, has made a name for himself as one of the best giant slalom racers in the history of skiing. He shocked the world at the age of 21, becoming the youngest American male to win an Olympic gold in the sport. In 2013, he became the first man in 45 years to win three events at the World Championships and in 2014, he won the first-ever Olympic gold for the US in the giant slalom.
He certainly has a lot of hype to live up to, but Ligety appears more than ready to take on the challenge in Pyeongchang.
Omnisport: How did you first get involved with skiing and how did your career evolve from there?
Ted Ligety: I grew up in Park City, Utah, so the obvious thing to do when you grow up there is to go skiing. My parents started me skiing at Deer Valley when I was two years old, and I was basically in the day programme from there. My parents like to joke that the mountain was my babysitter. They would drop my brother and I off there and we'd go skiing all day and my parents would pick us up after work. I just loved to go out there ripping up the whole mountain.
O: At what point in your career did you realise that you could have not only an Olympic future, but a chance at making history with the sport, too?
Ligety: I started ski racing when I was 10 years old and loved it. I loved going fast and I love the competition, and then I made the US ski team when I was 19. So it wasn't until I was 19 years old that I actually thought I had a chance. As a younger kid, I was actually getting crushed all the time on the Park City ski team. I definitely wasn't like one of the child prodigies or favourites coming up as a kid, but I worked hard and I loved it. You know, it gave me a lot of motivation so I think not dominating as a young kid was actually good for me.
O: You've made history for the US and been the first American to reach several milestones. What does that mean to you?
Ligety: Watching guys like Timo [Maszewski] in the Olympics when I was just starting to ski race and watching my heroes like [Alberto] Tomba, I just really wanted to be able to follow in their footsteps. So it's pretty crazy to think at this day and age that I have done what I have done. But you know since I'm still in the midst of my career I try not to think about those things and what I've done so far. I just try to move on to the next thing and I kind of can reflect back on that when I'm done. Right now, it's all about trying to get better and move onto the next race.
O: What was your reaction when you found out that you made your fourth Olympic team?
Ligety: I kind of always knew I would make it. It was kind of on the horizon just based on the results and stuff like that, but you know it's super, super special and I'm honoured to be named to my fourth Olympic team.
O: What do you think your chances are of bringing home a gold for the US?
Ligety: I'll be competing in the combined, super-G and the giant slalom. I think I have good chances in all of those events. For me, the giant slalom is really my focus and you know that's where I think I'll have the best chance of winning a medal, but the combined and the super-G are also technical hills, so those play into my skill set really well.
O: Who do you think will be your biggest competition on the slopes?
Ligety: In Alpine skiing right now, Marcel Hirscher, who has been on a tear this year, is definitely a favourite in the giant slalom and the slalom events. He's going to be a tough guy to beat. But he is due for mistakes, so hopefully they come at the Olympics and we can take advantage of that. There's some tough competition out there for sure.
O: How do you think the US as a whole will fair in Pyeongchang?
Ligety: I think we have a really good chance of winning medals this year on the women's side with Mikaela [Shriffin] and Lindsey [Vonn]. On the men's side, we're a little bit more of dark horses, but between myself and Steven Nyman I think the US has a good chance if things line up right and we have an amazing race. Winning a medal is definitely a big goal, and it's been a focus for us this year.
O: To someone who has not ever competed at the Olympics, tell him or her: What does it mean to represent the US and compete at the highest level?
Ligety: The Olympic Games, it's a different scale for sure. We race all over the world when we do World Cups basically every weekend all winter, but the Olympics are a whole other scale for sure. With all the other sports there you know just the security, the media, there's so much more going on. It's a different task to focus at the Olympics for sure, which I think helps somebody who is a little bit more of a veteran like myself to be able to focus on the games. But it's just an honour to be able to go out there and represent your nation and push yourself as hard as you can.