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Alpine skiing: Ligety sets worlds alight in Vonn's absence

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

American Ted Ligety took the World Ski Championships by storm, sealing three golds in an achievement rarely seen in the modern era of alpine skiing.

Ligety and teenager Mikaela Shiffrin led the US team to the top of the medals table ahead of Austria, for whom Marcel Hirscher won the final slalom race.

The worlds, however, got off to the worst possible start when Ligety's high-profile teammate Lindsey Vonn suffered a season-ending knee injury in a horror crash in the opening women's super-G race.

In a fog-delayed race, the sight of Vonn, one of world sport's most successful and marketable female stars, being evacuated off the slope by helicopter was certainly not what organisers had wished for.

But Ligety stepped into the void left by the absence not only of Vonn but also the injured Bode Miller, stunning the field to win the men's super-G before showing his flawless technical abilities to claim the super-combined gold.

Topping the podium in the giant slalom, the 28-year-old's favoured discipline, never seemed in doubt, as Ligety joined an elite club of racers to have won three or more golds at a worlds.

Sasha Rearick, the head coach of the US men's team, hailed Ligety's achievement as exceptional given how tough it is for a skier nowadays to dominate multiple events.

"No one has done this in the modern era because of the development of the World Cup," Rearick said.

"When you think of the greats like Lasse Kjus, Kjetil Aamodt and Hermann Maier - they haven't done it. It's an absolutely amazing achievement for Ted."

The fourth gold for the US team came from 17-year-old Shiffrin, who despite having to do her school homework between races, showed a seasoned, hard-nosed approach to ski racing far beyond her young age.

"It's been 17 years in the making. Everyone says it comes so fast but it seems like it's been forever for me," the no-nonsense teen said.

Host nation Austria left it to the last moment to win an individual gold medal -- the last time they had failed to do so came way back in 1987.

Hirscher, who had led the Austrian squad to gold in the team event, held his nerve in front of a roaring partisan 40,000-strong crowd to seal a memorable triumph under enormous pressure.

"The whole country was watching me," said Hirscher. "Around four million people were watching on television in Austria and 40,000 are here live in the stadium. If I'd straddled, oh my god, they would have killed me!"

The US team and Hirscher aside, there were a handful of big names who were multiple medal winners.

Norwegian colossus Aksel Lund Svindal won downhill gold and super-G bronze, narrowly missing out on the giant slalom podium.

Slovenia's runaway women's overall World Cup leader Tina Maze won the super-G and two silvers (super-combined, giant slalom) and Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch took super-combined gold and two bronzes (downhill and team).

Maze also finished fifth in the slalom and seventh in the downhill to underline her incredible all-round skiing abilities.

Underdogs also had their day, and were often to be seen wearing the tricolour catsuits of France.

While Tessa Worley's giant slalom victory could have been predicted, there were three other medals from Worley's unheralded 30-something French teammates Marion Rolland (downhill gold), Gauthier de Tessieres (super-G silver) and David Poisson (downhill bronze).

The trio has just three World Cup podiums between them, but they fell back on their journeymen seasons on the unforgiving circuit to finally step up when it counted.

"In a way, it's revenge for the three. They are veteran warriors, and they grabbed the right opportunities," French ski federation president Michel Vion told AFP.

It was another disappointing worlds for Switzerland, Lara Gut's sole downhill silver matching Didier Cuche's performance in Garmish two years ago.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130217/alpine-skiing-ligety-sets-worlds-alight-vonns-absence