February 14, 2006

Ligety wins men’s combined

By Clare Fallon

SESTRIERE, Italy (Reuters) - Unheralded American Ted Ligety
won Olympic gold in the Alpine skiing combined event on Tuesday
after leader Benjamin Raich of Austria skied out of the slalom
second leg.

Ligety had been expected to play second fiddle to his
better known team mate Bode Miller but the overall World Cup
champion, who led after the downhill leg, straddled a gate pole
in the first slalom run and was disqualified.

Croatian Ivica Kostelic, a former world slalom champion who
had won nothing in more than two years, took silver with
Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder winning the bronze.

Raich, world combined champion and overall World Cup
leader, had a lead of 0.40 seconds going into the final slalom
leg but straddled a gate halfway down the second run and went

American team officials, waiting with Ligety at the finish
line of the Giovanni Agnelli course, celebrated wildly as they
realized their man had won.

"When I saw (Raich) ski out I just couldn't believe what
was happening," Ligety, who was only 32nd after the downhill
leg, told reporters. "Having the gold medal is something

Miller, combined silver medallist at the last Olympics, had
been a favorite for gold in Turin while the 21-year-old Ligety,
skiing in his first Games and without a single World Cup win,
remained in the shadows.

Ligety, who has had three World Cup podium places in slalom
this season, produced the fastest time of the first slalom leg
to push him up to third overall, behind Kostelic and Raich,
going into the decisive leg.

Kostelic, the older brother of Janica who is defending
three Alpine skiing gold medals in Turin, had knee surgery two
years ago and has not won a race since.

"Nobody can imagine what I am feeling right now after all
that I have been through," said Kostelic, who was hugged by his
tearful sister in the finish area.

Outgoing champion Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway failed to
defend his title after injuring his knee in Sunday's downhill
when he finished fourth.