By Steve Keating
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Ted Ligety does not have a headline grabbing relationship like Lindsey Vonn nor does he court controversy like showman Bode Miller.
But he does have more alpine world championship medals than any American skier after a breath-taking giant slalom win on Friday.
Overshadowed by his more flamboyant team mates off the piste, Ligety again proved he takes a backseat to no one on the mountain by coming to the rescue in electrifying but familiar fashion to end a U.S. gold medal drought at the posh Colorado resort.
The world championships had not unfolded as planned for the U.S. on home snow as Vonn, the headliner at Beaver Creek and most successful women's skier of all time, exited with a bronze and Miller crashed out early in his opening race.
Heading into the final weekend the only hardware American ski fans had to celebrate were a silver from Travis Ganong in the downhill and a pair of third-place finishes from Ligety and Vonn, who was cheered on by her golfer boyfriend, Tiger Woods.
But Ligety got the weekend party started early up and down the Vail Valley with a jaw-dropping second-leg charge down the plunging Birds of Prey track that carried him to the top of the podium ahead of first leg leader and three-time overall World Cup winner Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
Ligety has long believed there is no such thing as a perfect run but, for the thousands of American ski fans who packed the finish area grandstands on a sun-kissed afternoon, the 30-year-old American's second leg was about as good as it gets.
"One of the cool things about ski racing is there is never a perfect run so it's hard to be satisfied in that sense, you can always go that extra step," Ligety told Reuters at the end of an autograph session for one of his sponsors, GoPro.
"I don't think any of us have the realistic goal of having the perfect run. Ski racing is the most variable sport out there, conditions change run-to-run, we only get one chance at it and the margin for error is tiny.
"This is a tough sport because there are so many factors. It is really hard to have those factors converge and have that perfect run."
LIGETY A TARGET
Ligety arrived in Beaver Creek with a target on his back, having recorded a gold medal hat-trick at the 2013 world championships in Schladming by taking top spot in the Super-G, super combined and giant slalom.
Humbled on their home snow two years ago, the Austrians had already gained a good measure of revenge at Beaver Creek with Hannes Reichelt taking Ligety's Super-G crown and Hirscher the combined title.
Known as 'Mr. GS' for his domination of the discipline, Ligety had seen his reign challenged this season with Hirscher stepping into the American's territory by winning four-of-five World Cup giant slaloms.
Ligety, who has owned the giant slalom crown since the 2011 worlds, has 39 World Cup GS podiums and 23 wins.
This season he had reached the top of the podium just once, but that one win came at Beaver Creek on the same Birds of Prey course he ruled on Friday.
With his victory, Ligety put his name in the U.S. skiing record books, his career total of seven world championship podiums (five golds) the most by any American alpine skier.
"I don't know if I feel any extra pressure, it's just really nice to race in the U.S. It's so rare we get a race in the U.S.," said Ligety, who has posted five consecutive giant slalom wins at Beaver Creek.
"The World Cup in general is the central European Cup so we are living out of our duffle bags on a regular basis. It's a nice advantage for us being on home snow, having those guys not being a couple of hours away from home and deal with the travel.
"I've always had a good track record racing in the United States. I don't see it as a burden, I see it as more than advantage."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)