Posted: Tuesday February 14, 2006 7:58PM; Updated: Wednesday February 15, 2006 9:49AM
Ligety was the second skier down the hill in the first run of slalom, contested in dying light on a steep hill at the bottom of the main drag in Sestriere. Ligety has been fast in slalom all year (he is third in the World Cup standings) and ripped through 56 gates in 44.09 seconds, which would hold up as the fastest first-run slalom time in the field.
Ligety headed for more fluids and zinc and the plot thickened. Miller skied a choppy run but held first place by just less than a second over Raich. However, a half hour after Miller's run, a technician from ORF, the Austrian NBC, called to Marc Habermann, the U.S. Ski Team's men's PR man. "They told me to look at Bode's run,'' said Habermann. "They said, 'He straddled a gate.' I watched and I thought, uh-oh, because it looked like he definitely straddled a gate.''
There was no official ruling yet, but Habermann called the U.S. coaches on his walkie-talkie: "Guys, I just watched a tape of Bode and I think he straddled a gate. I think he's probably going to be disqualified.'' There are at least half a dozen coaches on Habermann's radio frequency. None of them responded. "Dead silence,'' said Habermann.
Miller, meanwhile, was in a small shed next to the finish line, riding a spinning bike to dissipate his lactic acid. He could see the finish line scoreboard. "I looked out and my name was gone,'' Miller said later.
Suddenly, from a possibility of two medals (Ligety was in fourth place behind Miller, Raich and Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, with a very real chance of passing at least one racer), the U.S. was leaning on Ligety, an Olympic rookie who had never won a World Cup race. This, after Sunday's shutout in the men's downhill and LindseyKildow's injury in downhill training. You could feel the panic setting in.
All Ligety did was rip another brilliant slalom run, the second fastest in the field, on the second run. He moved into first place. Kostelic could not catch him. Then Raich, who never failed to finish a race last season but this year has four DNFs in the slalom and Super G, missed a gate and made Ligety a gold medalist. "The whole thing definitely surprised me,'' said Ligety. "I'm not really sure what happened.''
Back in the press center at the top of the hill, Ted's father, Bill, tapped out an e-mail message to Ted's brother, Charly, a student and ski racer at Dartmouth. "I'm telling him that the day he got accepted to Dartmouth is just as big a moment as this night,'' said Bill.
A few feet away, Bill's wife (and Ted's mom), Cyndi Sharp, wondered out loud. "How does this change our life? Or Ted's life?'' Bill recalled a movie he likes, Sliding Doors, from 1998, in which star GwynethPaltrow's life is shown in two versions, based on decisions she makes. "Maybe it's like that,'' Bill said. "But how will life be different?'' They both looked as surprised and confused as their older son.
How will if be different? Golden, to start with. And epic.