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Ligety injury ends historic career as concerns rise over ’22 Winter Olympics

15th February 2021 | Craig Altschul

Ted Ligety back injury forces retirement

Ted Ligety back injury forces retirement

Copyright: GEPA

Go figure. Ted Ligety, the American superstar, with his trophy case already bulging after amassing Olympic, World Championship and World Cup medals in historic numbers, was planning it call it quits Feb. 19 in Cortina, Italy in the World Championships Giant Slalom. He outlined his plans just days ago.

So much for planning. Ligety woke up to severe back pain Friday and announced via social media that “a scan revealed my back was herniated to the point it’s not safe to ski.”

It clearly wasn’t the way he wanted to go out. He thought he could be competitive for  the U.S. Ski Team at the World Alpine Skiing Championships currently going on sans spectators and hype in Italy. He had skipped the World Pro Ski Tour Steamboat race earlier to be fresh for the Worlds.

“I was excited to race one last time then retire on my own terms,” Ligety wrote. “To dig deep, throw down and see what would be possible. Perhaps conjure up some ‘vintage Ligety.’ Unfortunately it was not to be, my back said I’m the boss and you are finished now.

“Yesterday, I woke up to the worst sciatic pain of my life. I can’t point to anything that triggered it, but I had been experiencing low grade sciatica for a week or two which was ‘normal’ for me on occasion for the last several years. Now it’s time to get my back healthy to support a lifetime of playing and skiing with my kids. Thank you everyone for your support.”

It’s just not our own call sometimes. Lindsey Vonn expressed similar feelings last week saying her plan was to ski out of the World Championships and retire too, but injuries forced her to end her career last winter.

A Ligety legacy

Ligety’s legacy includes: Two Olympic gold medals; seven World Championship medals including five gold; an historic, never-before-done run of three-straight World Championship GS gold medals; six World Cup crystal globes (five GS, one combined), and 25 World Cup wins, 52 podiums in 336 starts.

Ligety said when announcing his retirement before leaving for Cortina that he likely would race in some World Pro Tour events down the line. But with the tough head-to-head racing and the leaps over three large jumps each race, his back will likely make that decision.

The American team is doing well at Cortina as the controversial 2022 Winter Olympics looms large a year from now in Beijing, China. Cortina, by the way, will host the 2026 winter party.

Mikaela Shiffrin strikes gold again

Mikaela Shiffrin strikes gold again

Copyright: U.S. Ski Team

At the midway point of the Worlds, Mikaela Shiffrin, the current Ski Team star and likely biggest American name next year in the Winter Olympics, is doing fine. She already has picked up a bronze medal in the Super G and a gold medal in the Women’s Combined (Super G and slalom). She now has six world titles and the Giant Slalom and slalom are coming up. 

Americans Bryce Bennett was 10th and Travis Ganong 12th in the men’s downhill. Breezy Johnson was ninth in the women’s speed race.

Joyful rendezvous?

And everyone is looking forward to Beijing and the excitement the Winter Olympiad brings to alpine and freestyle skiing and snowboarding, right? Not quite.

“To see the American flag and to see American athletes in Beijing celebrating what is the worst of the worst authoritarian regimes right now — I can’t imagine it,” said Mike Waltz (D-Fla) as he and a group of other reps offered a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for a U.S. boycott of the Beijing Games. Sen. Tim Scott (R-Fla) demanded in the U.S. Senate that the Games be moved to another location.

Seems like rewarding China after unleashing a deadly bug on the rest of the planet as well as the concurrent human rights violations isn’t very popular here on the home front. An earlier resolution called for removing the Games from the country because the Chinese government “was perpetrating genocide against Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.”

China Olympic officials, on being awarded the Games, said they expected the event “to be free of controversy.” In fact, the official motto is: “Joyful rendezvous upon pure ice and snow.”

While the calls to get the games moved or boycotted in the U.S., Canada and likely other countries are sure to grow louder as the pandemic rolls along and human rights violations continue to be documented, that scenario is considered a long shot.

Beijing Olympic venues planned for 2022  - © Beijing Olympic Committee

Beijing Olympic venues planned for 2022

Copyright: Beijing Olympic Committee

Unlikely boycott

“We’re not currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing. Of course, the key word is “currently.” A year is a long time and many, many cable news cycles away.

It’s not just alpine skiing that is having its share of issues. Snowboard championship events are scattered after a China test was cancelled. Some events are going on currently in Sweden, while slopestyle, halfpipe and big air events of both Snowboard and Freeski will be held in Aspen from 10 to 16 March 2021. 

Meanwhile, the World Pro Tour concluded races at Steamboat earlier in February with an unusual set of Saturday and Monday races (COVID compliance) but have not announced any more races yet. Robert Cone, a 2015 NCAA champion from Vermont, won both ends of the Steamboat head-to-head events.

There’s lots of news piling up a year before the scheduled Winter Olympics. But, if you’re looking for something to ponder over the next few months, you can play guessing games on whether or not Tokyo can pull off the once-postponed summer Olympiad in July.




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