January 31, 2015

The hill? Perfectly suited for Ted Ligety's style. The hand? Almost healed. The hardware? He's hoping to retain all those medals.

The American skier knows it won't be as easy as 1-2-3 to defend his giant slalom, super-combined and super-G titles at the world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, beginning Wednesday with the super-G.

After all, he had one of those everything-goes-right kind of performances two years ago in Austria, when he became the first male skier since French great Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 to win at least three golds at worlds.

Still, Ligety's not ready to surrender those crowns - any of them.

''Defending all three gold medals? I guess I wouldn't say that's my expectation,'' Ligety said in a phone interview from Park City, Utah, where he's squeezing in some last-minute training before making his way to Colorado. ''It's certainly on the dream side, for sure.

''But it's still possible.''

Especially at Beaver Creek, a venue Ligety has ruled in the past. He's won five times on the demanding Birds of Prey slope, including in December when he captured his only giant slalom race so far this season by holding off Alexis Pinturault of France by 0.18 seconds.

That's when the two-time Olympic champion was at the height of his skiing. Ligety hasn't been his usual dominating self this season, particularly in his signature event, the GS.

In his words, he's ''fighting the skis and gravity a little bit.''

The reason could be simple: Ligety is racing with four screws inserted into his left hand after breaking his wrist in a training accident two months ago. He remains wary of dragging the hand in the snow as he cruises around gates.

Ligety said he still has ''good days and bad days'' with his dinged-up hand. It affects him more in slalom events, because he has to tightly tape it and wear a protective brace.

''But in GS and speed events, it's not a big deal,'' said the 30-year-old Ligety, who will have the screws removed after the season. ''This is not ideal, but not something that affects me a great deal.''

In Beaver Creek, his plan is to ski every race except the downhill, since the Americans are already so deep in the event with Steven Nyman, Marco Sullivan, Travis Ganong, Jared Goldberg and, of course, Bode Miller, should the six-time Olympic medalist return after undergoing back surgery in November.

Recently, Ligety took a pit stop home to Park City, so he could fine-tune some technical issues he spotted on video.

Even the world's best occasionally need to a refresher course.

''I would say this year has been a little bit of a struggle for me,'' said Ligety, who added a gold medal in the giant slalom at the Sochi Olympics last February to the gold in the combined he captured at the 2006 Turin Games. ''I've figured a couple of things out in my skiing, to hopefully realign myself back to where I have been.''

When Ligety's at his best, his skiing appears almost effortless. His turns are razor sharp and his speed unmatched. That hasn't always been the case this season, with tiny hiccups interrupting promising performances.

To have any chance of duplicating his success two years ago in Schladming, Austria, the skier known as ''Shred'' realizes he needs to uncover his top form and fast.

That's because Kjetil Jansrud of Norway looks almost uncatchable these days in speed events, currently leading both the super-G and downhill standings. And then there's Marcel Hirscher, the Austrian standout who's won four giant slalom races this season and leads in the overall World Cup race.

''Beaver Creek is probably one of the best places possible for me to have a chance of repeating,'' said Ligety, who has his own company that makes goggles, helmets, gloves and outerwear.

Asked if he feels like a marked skier heading into worlds, Ligety laughed.

''It's not like football, where they can tackle me,'' he said. ''It's good to have that kind of pressure on you because that means you've done some things right.

''But this is about me skiing the way I can ski and being confident and hopefully putting together some great runs.''

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Follow Pat Graham on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pgraham34.

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