Ted Ligety recalls how the Olympic flame was lit for him by Bode Miller in 2002
Bode Miller lit up the Alpine skiing events at Salt Lake City 2002. These Games were the launchpad for a period of American skiing success, not just at the Olympic Winter Games but also in the World Cup and World Championships. The Olympic Channel takes us back ti Park City where the Olympic flame continues to shine bright today.
Bode Miller is one of the greatest Alpine skiing stars of all time. During a long career, which started with his début on the international FIS circuit in 1994 and ended at the World Championships in 2015, he made his mark in all five World Cup disciplines, racking up 33 victories and a total of 77 podium finishes. He claimed to large crystal globes for topping the overall classifications in 2005 and 2008, and won six Olympic medals, including gold in the combined at Vancouver 2010, as well as five world titles in four different disciplines.
Miller had a skiing style that was unique and was blessed with amazing flexibility. It is also true to say that in the digital era, he became the first true star of American Alpine skiing. Of the many iconic images of him in action that went viral round the world, one that stands out is the shot of his descent at Stelvio de Bormio in 2005 on one ski after he’d lost the other at the start of the run while skiing at 120km/hour.
He first came to the attention of the American public at the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. On the slopes of Snowbasin and Park City he kicked off his Olympic career with an incredible slalom run in the combined, which earned him the silver medal behind Kjetil Andre Aamodt, after he finished 15th in the downhill section.
A few days later, lying seventh after the first round of the giant slalom, he recorded the best time in the second round to claim another silver, finishing just 88 hundredths of a second behind Austria’s Stefan Eberharter. In the slalom, he recorded the second fastest time in the first round, but botched his second run, opening the way to the French pair of Jean-Pierre Vidal and Sébastien Amiez to claim the top two spots on the podium.
For one Park City teenager, the Alpine events were a revelation. "At the 2002 Olympic Games here, I was able to forerun the slaloms,” recalls Ted Ligety. "I was right among the competitors, as I was a sort of tester for them. I was at the start gate, right next to the best skiers in the world like Bode. I was a huge fan. It was great to see them all. I was lucky enough to be at the Snowbasin where Bode won one of his silver medals in the combined. He was way behind after the downhill, but then he produced two fantastic slalom runs. It was fantastic, because nobody had thought he could do it.”
At Salt Lake 2002, Miller became the first American to win a medal in the Olympic giant slalom. As the USA’s Alpine ski director Jesse Hunt underlines, itw as a watershed moment for American skiing: « I think that the athletes that came after him started to believe that it was possible for an American Alpine skier to succeed at the highest level.”
Inspired by Miller, a 21-year-old Ted Ligety won gold in the Alpine combined at Turin 2006. He went on to become the uncontested king of the giant slalom with 24 World Cup victories, a record three world titles, and an Olympic gold at Sochi 2014. In fact it was the start of a golden generation of American skiers who went on to shine on the international stage.
There was Lindsey Vonn, who notched up 82 World Cup victories - more than any other woman in history – to go with four large crystal globes and an Olympic gold in the downhill at Vancouver 2010. Then there was Julia Mancuso, who won giant slalom gold at Turin 2006, as well as three other Olympic medals. And taking up the baton from those two, there was Mikaela Shiffrin, who has gone on to beat record after record, and who at just 23, is already a double Olympic champion and a five-time world champion, racking up a record number of World Cup victories and world titles in the women’s slalom.
They in turn have inspired another generation of talented skiers, for example River Radamus, who won three gold medals at the Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer in 2016, as well claiming two world junior titles in the super-G and giant slalom in February 2019 in Val di Fassa (Italy).
For Ted Ligety it was the 2002 Winter Games, and most specifically the performances of Bode Miller that first sparked the flame. And the double Olympic champion hopes that he can do the same for the next generation of young skiers, who come to train at his base at Park City, telling them that if they have fun and work hard they have every chance of following in his footsteps and those of Miller.