SOCHI, Russia — Ted Ligety’s first Olympic gold medal in 2006 was such a gift it all but fell out of the sky from a gondola. Ligety was 21 in Turin, Italy, when he struck gold in the super combined, only because Bode Miller blew gold by missing a gate in his first slalom run and Austria’s Benny Raich blew gold by hooking a second-run gate within feet of the finish line.
Ligety’s second gold medal, won Wednesday at Rosa Khutor on pristine snow in postcard conditions, lifted the weight of his world.
It had gravitas.
The first gold was a dream, but as Ligety said, “it didn’t have the same sort of struggles along the way and the emotions behind it.”
Ligety did one of the hardest things you can do in sports: win at the Olympics when everyone expects you to win.
The best giant slalom racer of his generation would have had to answer questions all the way through customs if he had left Russia without the GS gold in his backpack.
Wednesday’s gold in Russia ratified Ligety’s greatness, justified his travails, silenced his critics and put his winless-Vancouver Olympics in the rear-view mirror.
“I’ve answered Vancouver question for the last four years,” Ligety said. “My best years have been since then, in a lot of ways because of that.”
His comfortable win by 0.48 seconds, with a two-run time of 2 minutes 45:29, completed Ligety’s legacy arc.
Like a ski run, he rode the ragged edge from Vancouver to Russia before crossing the finish line to end all doubt.
Two French racers, Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault, won the silver and bronze. But this was Ligety’s coronation.
Tempestuous teammate Miller, who finished in 20th place and 2.53 seconds behind Ligety, could only bow to the champion.
“There is no question who the best GS skier in the world is,” Miller said after what was likely his last Olympic race.
Raich, 35, the great Austrian who won GS gold in 2006, doesn’t even pretend he can compete with Ligety anymore. Raich finished seventh, 1.06 off the pace.
“It is impossible,” he said. “I have tried it all. I’ve given all my power and have still lost. This is the last time for me.”
U.S. skier Tim Jitloff, who finished 15th, almost two seconds behind the winner, said Ligety reminds him of tennis star Roger Federer in his prime.
“Everyone’s like, 'What do you do? How do you beat him?’ ” Jitloff said.
There is a thin line, of course, between explanation and exclamation. Had Ligety gone down on his hip in the second run, as it appeared he might, people would be writing different stories.
“Ski racing is probably the least guaranteed sport out there,” Ligety reminded.
Because Ligety did what he was supposed to do, he can be exalted as the first American male to win two Olympic Alpine gold medals.