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Ligety chasing gold eight years after first success

Ted Ligety of the U.S. skis in the second run in the men's World Cup Giant Slalom race in Beaver Creek, Colorado December 2, 2007. REUTERS/M
Ted Ligety of the U.S. skis in the second run in the men's World Cup Giant Slalom race in Beaver Creek, Colorado December 2, 2007. REUTERS/M

By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - American alpine skier Ted Ligety's form curve looks to be peaking at just the right time for Sochi, eight years after he won his first gold medal.

The 29-year-old is one of the early favorites for gold in the giant slalom and victory in a World Cup super-combined event at Switzerland in mid-January puts him in contention there too.

He won the combined event at the Turin Olympics in 2006 and his recent success in an event that combines speed and technique, suggests he will be a contender in several disciplines at the Olympics.

"This is definitely a big victory for me," he told reporters. "It's a nice confidence boost, and a step in the right direction for getting ready for Sochi."

Ligety heads to the Olympics on the back of an outstanding 2013, where he swept virtually all before him, winning three gold medals at the world championships.

"It's so ridiculous. It has been such an amazing year," he said. "I never would have expected it. And in a way it's kind of a bummer as I will never be able to do that again."

In recent seasons, Ligety has added speed to his technical mastery, increasing his chances of making to the podium in Sochi where he will compete in slalom, giant slalom, Super-G and Super-Combined.

His success is not just limited to the slopes either. Unlike most of his competitors, for whom equipment suppliers queue up with lucrative endorsements, Ligety includes himself among his sponsors.

In 2006, the Utah native teamed up with Italian skier and engineer Carlo Salmini to start Shred Optics. He designs and uses the ski goggles, helmets and sunglasses produced by the company.

The name is a play on Ligety's nickname of "Ted Shred," which he received from a ski coach in his home town of Park City due to his love of jumps and aggressive skiing on loose snow when he was a young boy.

His first taste of the Olympics came at Salt Lake City in 2002, where he was one of the volunteers that skied the slalom course to make sure it was safe before competition began.

After graduating from high school he was named in the U.S. Skiing Development Team and won a silver medal in slalom at the Junior World Championships in Slovenia in 2004.

He rose rapidly up the ranks and was added to the senior U.S. Ski Team in 2005, finishing 24th overall in the slalom that season.

In 2006, he won gold in the combined event after his compatriot Bode Miller was disqualified for straddling a gate in the first slalom run.

Ligety bounced back from a modest 2007 season to win the World Cup in giant slalom in 2008. Ligety had a disappointing Olympics in Vancouver, failing to win a medal, but rebounded quickly and a year later, he won his first world championship, in giant slalom.

"The commitment to being a ski racer is definitely a lot, there's a lot of sacrifices you have to make," he said in an interview on his own website.

"It's tough on your friendships, on different relationships, it's definitely a big sacrifice.

"Luckily for me, this is what I really love to do."

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Julian Linden)

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