Fellow Olympic champion teammate Lindsey Vonn is skipping the women's opener in Soelden on Saturday to complete her recovery from a devastating knee injury; the greatest American female skier ever expects to return at the season's third World Cup stop on Nov. 29 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
But the men's giant slalom on Sunday will give Ligety an early idea about whether his challengers can climb any closer, now that they have had even more time to figure out the new longer skis mandated by the International Ski Federation, and so loathed by Ligety himself.
"Definitely, people will catch up," he said.
There is a lot of catching up to do, though, and Ligety has shown that the new skis suit him best of all.
Still, he has hardly let up with his ongoing criticism of the international federation (FIS) for changing the rules before last season, supposedly in the name of safety. The federation increased the minimum length of skis, as well as the minimum turning radius, altering their hourglass shape. That happens to suit his style, Ligety said, but it also makes the skis harder to turn and not any safer.
"In a lot of ways, it's made it more dangerous," he said, "because you have to really muscle the ski around and manipulate and twist on the ski."
Nevertheless, Ligety will be a big favorite in Soelden, as well as in Sochi, whose giant-slalom course he said resembles the one at Beaver Creek, where he has won the last two World Cup giant slaloms. He's one of nine scheduled starters for the U.S. Ski Team this weekend including Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, Mikaela Shiffrin and Park City's Megan McJames following the best season of his career, one in which he won three gold medals at the world championships, in the giant slalom, combined and super-G.
"To watch Ted do that, it's inspirational," said Miller, who's aiming for his fifth Olympics.
Ligety has won four giant slalom season titles in the last six years, but he's also hoping to make a run at the overall World Cup title, after finishing third last season behind Austria's Marcel Hirschner and Norway's Aksal Lund Svindal. To that end, he said he spent a little more time working on his slalom during the offseason, after enjoying the best super-G finish of his career last year.
"It's not an easy feat by any means,," he said, "but I think it's something that's doable."
Of course, he also hopes to shine in Sochi, where he could add some hardware to the gold medal he won in the combined at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
"The best way to have a good Olympics is just having a good World Cup season," he said. "If you start taking races off here or there, and it doesn't work out in the Olympics, you kind of ruined a season. It's best to focus on the World Cup stuff before the Olympics happen. That way you'll be best prepared for the Olympics."
Meanwhile, he probably won't stop bashing the FIS.
"FIS has proven themselves to be wrong every time they make new ski regulations," he said. "Before, they made the skis wider and that made the skis more aggressive and created more injuries and now they're making them narrower. They keep having all these ideas that they test very mildly and they don't work, and then a couple years later they go back. I think it would be better if they just stayed out of it and let the ski companies make the regulations."
Road to Sochi
Ted Ligety and the rest of the men on the U.S. Ski Team compete in 14 World Cup events before the Sochi Olympics:
Date Location Events
Oct. 27 Soelden, Austria GS
Nov. 17 Levi, Finland SL
Nov. 30-Dec.1 Lake Louise, Canada DH, SG
Dec. 6-8 Beaver Creek, USA SG, DH, GS
Dec. 14-15 Val d'Isere, France GS, SL
Dec. 20-21 Val Gardena, Italy SG, DH
Dec. 22 Alta Badia, Italy GS
Dec. 29 Bormio, Italy DH
Jan. 6 Zagreb, Croatia SL
Jan. 11-12 Adelboden, Switzerland GS, SL
Jan. 17-19 Wengen, Switzerland SC, DH, SL
Jan. 24-26 Kitzbuhel, Austria SG, SC, DH, SL
Jan. 28 Schladming, Austria SL
Feb. 1-2 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Ger. DH, GS
Feb. 7-23 Sochi Olympic Games
GS = Giant Slalom, DH = Downhill, SL = Slalom, SG = Super-G, SC= Super Combined
Ligety earns USOC honor
The U.S. Olympic Committee Thursday announced its annual award recipients for the 2012-13 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and teams of the year. Park City's Ted Ligety was named Sportsman of the Year, joining Sportswoman of the Year, swimmer Katie Ledecky, from Bethesda, Md.
Ligety finished the 2012-13 season ranked first in giant slalom and third overall in the FIS world cup standings. The two-time Olympian secured his fourth giant slalom overall title with a wire-to-wire victory on March 9 before earning a historic sixth win in giant slalom the following week.