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Schladming, Austria • With Lindsey Vonn injured and Bode Miller already out for the season, it's Ted Ligety's turn to lead the U.S. ski team.
A day after Vonn's season-ending crash at the world championships, Ligety showed off his rapidly improving speed skills to win the first super-G of his career in the marquee event of the season.
The timing was not lost on the Park City native.
"It's definitely [tough] losing those teammates that have been so good over so many years and really carried the flag of the U.S.," Ligety said. "It's tough losing them, for sure, but it's an individual sport, too. You're out there competing for yourself."
Building on his giant slalom skills, Ligety surprised even himself Wednesday. In front of a crowd of 24,000, he took a lot of risks in the turning final section and mastered the Planai course in 1 minute, 23.96 seconds.
Gauthier De Tessieres of France was 0.20 back in second in another stunning result, and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won three of the four World Cup super-Gs this season, was another 0.02 back in third.
Defending champion Christof Innerhofer of Italy finished 1.09 off the pace in seventh.
"Today was unbelievable," said Ligety, who was the 10th starter. "It was a nerve-racking 30 minutes, waiting for all the favorites to come down. [To] finally see [Svindal] come down right behind me was a huge weight off my shoulders."
Ligety made a super-G podium only once before, finishing second in a World Cup at Val d'Isere, France, in 2009. This season, he's finished fourth in two races.
"I am having a good year in super-G but I didn't think this was possible," he said. "I thought I had a chance for a medal. ... I knew I had to take many risks at the bottom to have a chance. I tried not to slide and to ski as clean as possible."
As for Vonn, she will head home for surgery in Colorado next week after tearing two ligaments in her right knee and breaking a bone in her lower leg in a crash at the world championships.
Vonn, a part-time Park City resident, said Wednesday that she plans to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which start in 12 months.