KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — When a wide-eyed Ted Ligety won a gold medal in combined in his first Olympics race at the Turin Games eight years ago, he seemed as stunned as anyone by his sudden stardom at age 21.
But when he dominated Wednesday's giant slalom to become the first American man to win two Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing, there was nothing surprising about it. He came in as the prohibitive favorite and when he crushed the field in the first of two runs Wednesday, the race was his to lose.
After crossing the finish line as a two-time Olympic champion, the emotion he felt was nothing like the first time that night in Italy in 2006.
"It was a huge relief," Ligety said. "I've been wanting to win this medal my whole life, but even more so in a realistic sense the last few years. All season long, everybody talks about the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics. At a certain point I was like, 'Let's do it already, let's get it over with so we can stop talking about the pressure.' It's awesome to finally do it and get the monkey off the back."
Only one other American has two Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing. Andrea Mead Lawrence won giant slalom and slalom at the 1952 Oslo Games.
In a race where it seemed everyone else was competing for the silver medal, Steve Missillier of France claimed it after finishing 0.48 of a second behind Ligety. Teammate Alexis Pinturault claimed bronze.
Ligety's father, Bill, felt much the same sense of relief as his son when it was over.
"I was tremendously nervous today because the expectations were so great," he said. "Nobody in the United States notices World Cup victories. If he didn't win, it would have been so noticed. The expectation for this was just off the charts. I was more nervous than I've ever been for a ski race."
Ligety, from Park City, Utah, won gold medals in GS at the past two world championships. He's won World Cup season GS titles four times. He has been the guy the rest of the world has been chasing in that event for years. None of that helped him in the starting gate Wednesday.
"Ski racing is probably the least guaranteed sport out there," Ligety said. "It's really rare when the favorites win. So far here, this is the first event that an actual favorite has won. And that's pretty regular on the World Cup — guys that are the best in the world are on the podium oftentimes, but don't always win.
"That's what makes it that much more special, when you can perform the way you want to perform and equal the result you're expecting."
Ligety had a ridiculous lead of 0.93 seconds after the first run, and he knew it would take a major mistake to lose a margin like that. He gave away a little in the second run, but the outcome never seemed in doubt.
"You look pretty stupid if you mess it up," Ligety said. "If you blow out, taking too much risk, you look stupid. If you go too easy and you blow your lead, you look even more stupid. When it is such a tactically tough hill like this, it's nice to know you can take less risk in places, but I still had to charge as hard as I possibly could in some sections. I needed to get every little 10th (of a second) I could in those sections if I wanted to be able to ski those other sections smart.
"It still wasn't a super comfortable feeling being in the start gate, knowing there was a gold medal on the line."
If the 2006 Olympics was an unexpected success, the 2010 Olympics was a disappointing setback. He won his second World Cup season title in GS that year but finished ninth at the Olympics.
"I moved on past that, and my best years have been since then and, in a lot of ways, because of that," Ligety said. "I knew there was a lot of pressure on (here). To be able to perform and do what I wanted to do, and have it equal a gold medal, is truly awesome."
Alpine medals at Sochi Olympics
A look at the alpine medal breakdown at the Olympic Games.
Country Total Gold Silver Bronze
1. Austria 5 2 2 1
2. USA 4 1 1 2
3. Switzerland 3 2 0 1
4. Germany 3 1 1 1
5. Slovenia 2 2 0 0