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Austria's Benjamin Raich lost control and skied off the slalom course and then Park City's Ted Ligety was on the ground, tackled by American teammates Steven Nyman and Scott Macartney in the finish area.

Just like that, the kid who grew up skiing at Park City Mountain Resort was an Olympic gold medalist.

"It's definitely a surprise," Ligety said.

The 21-year-old Ligety won the men's combined event, coming from way behind after the downhill portion with two outstanding runs in the slalom. The slalom is his specialty, and Tuesday's performance obviously makes him the favorite to win another gold medal in that event on Feb. 25.

Ligety became the fourth athlete with Utah ties to win a gold medal at the Turin Games, joining Salt Lake City's Chad Hedrick [speedskating] and Joey Cheek [speedskating] and Park City's Shaun White [snowboard halfpipe].

Moreover, the victory for the Salt Lake City-born Ligety follows the wrestling title of Heber City's Cael Sanderson in the 2004 Summer Games on a short list of native Utahns' Olympic gold medals. His victory is the sixth overall, the first in the Winter Games.

And finally, he is already one lifetime gold medal ahead of his more famous teammate, Bode Miller. Leading after the downhill, Miller was disqualified after straddling a gate in the first slalom run. "That's not how I want to win races," Ligety said.

Other stars also faded: Austria's Michael Walchhofer skied off the course in the first run and Italy's Giorgio Rocca could not catch Ligety, finishing fifth. Ligety stood 32nd after the downhill run, but the Olympic format - each run counts toward the total time - was in his favor. After one slalom run, Ligety was third. He took the lead after his second run, clinching at least a bronze medal with two racers still to come.

Croatia's Ivica Kostelic could not match him, finishing second. Then Raich, the two-run leader who already was losing time, missed a gate and Ligety was the champion.

And now what? "We don't have any champagne on ice; we're just going to go with the flow, I guess," said the skier's father, Park City realtor Bill Ligety.

The Olympic gold medal was the latest in a series of breakthroughs for Ligety, who said he was "not always the best guy out there" on the Park City slopes. He kept improving while attending Park City Winter School and joined the U.S. Ski Team two years ago, then ascended quickly as a World Cup skier this season.

"Every time I watch him ski slalom, I'm just baffled," Nyman said of Ligety's ability to ski so close to the gates.

Beyond that, Ligety is remarkably poised for someone so inexperienced at the international level. He knew a medal - if not necessarily the gold - was on the line when he launched his second run. Yet, "I was definitely relaxed," he said.

"Ted has the coolest head," Nyman said. "Stuff doesn't get to him at all."

He showed that Tuesday in a competition that began at noon on a downhill course a few miles away and concluded some 8 1/2 hours later, with a long break in between.

"I like this event, it's very underrated," said Bill Marolt, president and CEO of the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "The guy who wins this has got to have a lot of horsepower. He's got to have a lot of physical strength, he's got to be, mentally, really, really strong."

Ligety trailed Miller by three seconds after the downhill, and the slalom runs take only about 44 seconds each. So Ligety had to quickly make up time. He moved up with a 44.09 clocking in the first slalom run, then came back with a 43.84 mark to beat Kostelic by more than a half-second.

And now, it's on to the Olympic slalom next week, when Ligety's only sibling, his brother Charly, is planning to come from New Hampshire for Ted's best event. Ligety will be more relaxed, which makes him dangerous.

"This puts even less pressure on me in the slalom, with a gold medal in my back pocket," he said. "I wouldn't have ever expected to be where I am right now."

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