Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Grace and Power of a Perfect GS Turn

Today Ted Ligety won the Giant Slalom competition in Sochi.  He won by half a second, an enormous margin of victory for an Olympic GS event.  The New York Times has produced a great video showing Ligety's perfect technique.

In my senior year in high-school and for three years in college I worked on the triple jump--about 20 hours a week.  Ligety bounds from gate to gate not unlike a triple jumper:  a balanced take-off, initiated well above the gate, landing at the apex (where he applies maximum pressure on the edges and is almost parallel to the ground), followed by the smoothest of weight transfers, all the while gobbling up many meters of ground between apexes on opposite edges.  It's the triple jump broken into an exercise, bounding we used to call it. Bound-bound between the gates--57 of them, at incredible speeds.  

The best skier I have the privilege to ski with is Richard Newmark, who was a ski-racer in college and a long time ski-patrol guy in Utah.  Here are his observations, and those of Bode Miller on Ligety's skiing: 

Ted IS the man in GS, he has completely revolutionized GS in the past couple years, it is even more remarkable how he skis given the change in rules a couple years ago when they required a longer turn radius on the skis (safety argument to reduce knee injuries – dubious data support).  They bumped GS skis up from 185 cm w/ 27 m radius to 195 cm w/ 35 m radius (see Ted’s comments at the time:/ pretty funny).  [yes, my skis have a 13 m radius; I’m not sure that I could make a turn on his skis]. When I talk about high edge angle this is the archetype for what I have in mind, so just watch Ligety videos and you’ll have it perfect.

It was interesting to hear Bode’s comments on Ted’s style vs his own (after the gold medal run this am) where he talks about the longer route that Ted takes vs the straighter and more direct route that he attempts (operational term here is attempts); 
“In general, (Ligety) just carries speed from turn to turn better,” said Miller. “Because he’s going deeper, his turn is actually longer … Ted goes so round that his turn is naturally a longer radius. So by the time his turn finishes, it’s time to go into the next turn. … That way, he generates from one turn right into the next one and tips it up. The two things work together. He generates more speed … and because he has so much space, he never pinches or gets in trouble because he’s always way far away from the gate. 
“Take nothing away from Ted. I think he’s one of the best GS skiers in history,” added Miller, “but if he had some competitors that skied alternative styles to his — everyone right now is trying to do what he’s doing … If you saw a guy like (Alberto) Tomba at his best or Hermann (Maier) at his best or even (Michael) Von Gruenigen, those guys had there own thing going and they knew exactly how to do it. It would be tough for Ted to compete against somebody who was cutting that much line off him.”
Bode’s comment should not be interpreted as deprecating, merely a reflection of his personal philosophy on how to get down the hill the fastest (though not particularly consistently).  This has been why he has fought with his coaches for his entire (pretty good) career ;-).

I think that when I watch Bode ski I’m always astounded by what he does, when I watch Ligety I marvel at his mastery !

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