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American Ligety Wins Gold in Downhill Skiing

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel, and we're going to start off this segment at the Winter Olympics in Italy. An unheralded American skier named Ted Ligety stole the spotlight from teammate Bode Miller today. The 21-year-old Ligety won the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined. He turned in two superb slalom runs in an event that combines downhill and slalom. Miller led after the downhill stage, but he was disqualified in the slalom.

NPR's Chris Arnold watched the race in Sestriere, Italy and he joins us now. So Chris, a gold medal for the Americans. Ted Ligety?

CHRIS ARNOLD, reporting:

That's right, Robert. He's 21-years-old, he's from Park City, Utah, and this is his first Olympics. And in some ways he came out of nowhere here to win this medal. Ligety is a terrific slalom skier, he's ranked number two in the world, but in this event he was, you know, nobody thought he was going to do much.

That's because it starts with this downhill run in the beginning, which is just a totally different race, of course, than slalom skiing. I mean, you're going 85 miles an hour and, you know, totally different race. And he was way back in the pack, you know, after that first leg, but he turned in two very strong slalom runs in the next two segments of this, you know, all day event. And it was good enough to win him and a gold.

And he himself said, you know, it's incredible. I can't believe this happened in the men's combined slalom. So, you know, he was just as amazed as everybody else.

SIEGEL: Yeah. I must have missed the 60 Minutes profile of Ted Ligety.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Bode Miller was the person (unintelligible).

ARNOLD: Although at the press conference somebody did ask him if he skied drunk and he did say no, he did not, he did not compete...

SIEGEL: All the attention was on Bode Miller, and he had a good chance to win this event.

ARNOLD: He did, yeah. I mean he was two seconds in the lead after the downhill segment of the race. And, you know, two seconds in ski racing is like two minutes in, oh, I can't think of what it's like...

SIEGEL: Real life, I think.

ARNOLD: Yeah, yeah.

SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah.

ARNOLD: So, I mean, you know, he was well ahead and he basically did what Bode Miller does. I mean, he's tremendously fast, he skis right on the edge of control, you know, he's back, leaning back on his skis. And when you ski like that it's difficult to steer, but it's also a tremendously fast position to be in. He just hooked a gate and it was minor. I mean, on the replay when you saw it was half an inch. I mean, if his ski tip had hit that gate and his ski tip actually did strike the gate, you know, less than half an inch. On the other side his ski would have just bounced the other direction, but, you know, it wasn't until 10, 15 minutes after the race, after reviewing and reviewing the tape, that he was finally disqualified.

SIEGEL: Who were the other medal winners today, Chris?

ARNOLD: Well, I'm going to do my best in the pronunciations here. I've been told that it is Ivica Kostelic, and if anything, I mean, he's a tremendous story, too. And looking at the winners as they realized what position they'd gotten down at the bottom of the course, Ivica Kostelic was, there were tears streaming down his face, embracing his sister, who's a much more celebrated skier, Janica Kostelic.

And, you know, she's kind of had all the fame in the family or whatever. And their family story is interesting. Their father taught them how to ski. They came from the former Yugoslavia/Croatia. And he would drive them around in his car around Europe to compete. There was no national team. You know, they had no money, they lived out of this car, and he just had so many injuries he was never very well known, and now he's won.

SIEGEL: Well, that's the news from the Olympics. Thank you very much Chris.

ARNOLD: Sure.

SIEGEL: NPR's Chris Arnold talking with us from Sestriere near Turin in Italy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.