Injury-plagued Ligety encouraged by 5th in Olympic combined

JEONGSEON, South Korea — Ted Ligety pondered the thought that Valentine's Day marks the 12th anniversary of earning his first Olympic gold medal.

"It feels like both yesterday and 100 years ago," the American ski racer said.

Beleaguered by injuries the past few seasons — a torn ACL followed by back surgery — this gives him another sign he's on the right track: A fifth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Games on Tuesday in the combined, an event that combines the times of one run of downhill and another of slalom.

He wasn't all that fast on the downhill track, which he expected since it's not his specialty and it was windy. But he was much better in the slalom, keeping up with some of the best technical skiers in the world.

Of course, no one could catch Austrian great Marcel Hirscher, who won his first Olympic gold. There was a time when Ligety and Hirscher had a burgeoning rivalry — the two of them often trading wins on the World Cup circuit. That was back when Ligety was healthy.

"My body breaking down hasn't helped the symmetry of our relationship as far as skiing goes," said the 33-year-old Ligety, who was 1.45 seconds behind Hirscher's winning time. "I haven't been able to ski at a high level. The last two years, I didn't ski at all really. Before that, I was already starting to break down.

"Now I actually feel healthy ... keep that momentum going — hopefully I can bring parity back to that."

Taking away some positives, he hopes to carry it over to the super-G and his favorite event, the giant slalom, where he's the defending Olympic champion.

"It's good to be able to go to bed happy with my performance," Ligety said. "Just not super psyched on not ending up with a medal."

This time a year ago, Ligety was healing from surgery to fix herniated disks. He's only raced in nine World Cup competitions this season, but finished third at a GS race in Germany late last month.

"Ted and I have been together a long time, and we've been in this situation before, where you go down and it's your first race of a championship and you didn't express yourself in the way that you can," U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "And I've found that that's a really good thing to help him get motivated, because he's a guy who hates to lose."

His family is here to watch — parents, brother, wife and his son, Jax, who was born in late June. Ligety's hoping for another taste of success, like in Italy in 2006 when he won the Olympic combined.

"It's pretty crazy to think it's 12 years ago now," Ligety said. "At the same time, it does feel like yesterday if I think about it. It's cool to have that.

"Forward thinking, I guess."

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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