Sestriere, Italy Not that long ago, Ted Ligety was everything Bode Miller is not: unknown, unsponsored, unaccomplished.
Now, thanks to his clean, aggressive skiing and errors by Miller and other favorites, Ligety is an Olympic champion.
Miller still is not.
"It's great to be where I am," the 21-year-old Ligety said, his voice hoarse, "but it's unexpected, that's for sure."
Never before a competitor at a Winter Games, never before a winner of any major race, Ligety produced two spectacular slalom runs to pull out the combined event Tuesday night, only the fourth time in Olympic history an American man has collected a gold medal in Alpine skiing.
A few hours before, it appeared Miller might win that medal. Fastest in the downhill portion of the three-leg event, he was disqualified after straddling a gate in the first slalom.
Trailing far behind after the afternoon downhill, Ligety took a star turn under the floodlights during the evening slalom. He was as consistent as a metronome, rocking smoothly back and forth, back and forth, smacking away gates with his orange gloves and black shin guards.
"You've just got to get in the starting gate," Ligety said, "and throw down whatever you've got."
When he finished his final run, the day's fastest at 43.84 seconds, the man nicknamed "Ligety Split" raised his hands and took a well-deserved bow.
Still, Ligety had to wait to celebrate.
First, Ivica Kostelic of Croatia finished a half-second shy. Then, World Cup slalom champion Benjamin Raich of Austria went off-course about 30 seconds into his run.