Young Ted Ligety gave the United States the gold medal that Bode Miller couldn't deliver Tuesday, uncorking two dynamic slalom runs to win the men's combined and break the Americans' bad luck in Alpine skiing.
The 21-year-old from Park City, Utah, in his first Olympics, had a combined time of 3 minutes, 9.35 seconds for the downhill and two slalom runs. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia won the silver medal, 53-hundredths of a second behind at 3:09.88. Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria captured the bronze at 3:10.67.
Austrian favorite Benjamin Raich, the leader going into the final slalom run, skied off the course, setting off a red, white and blue celebration at the finish area.
"It's incredible," Ligety said. "I can't believe it (happened) in combined because I'm not very good in downhill."
He said it would have been even better if Raich had finished.
"I would prefer to win standing up to him," Ligety said.
Americans Steven Nyman and Scott Macartney tackled Ligety, and the teammates rolled in the snow together. They rose, and Ligety waved an American flag while he was propped on the others' shoulders.
"I'm not surprised he's on the podium," U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said. "I'm a bit surprised he won gold."
It was only the fourth Olympic Alpine gold medal for U.S. men.
Ligety burst onto the world scene with two thirds and a second in this, his second World Cup season, and it seemed only a question of when, not if he would be a winner.
It couldn't have come at a better time for the frustrated Americans.
"It's a great day, especially with Bode skiing out," Macartney said. "Ted stepped up."
"You've just got to get in the starting gate and throw down whatever you've got," Ligety said.
What he had was two near-flawless slalom runs: the day's fastest, 43.84 seconds in his clinching second run, and 44.09 seconds in the first, .01 slower than the best time of that leg.
On the final run, he attacked the steep part of the course at the start but gained most of his time with a sweep through the middle section, dashing between gates with a perfect aggressive rhythm.
Miller was disqualified for straddling a gate in the first run, just when he seemed to have built a commanding lead for his first Olympic gold medal. He seemed to have set himself up beautifully with the fastest downhill run.
The disqualification gave the lead temporarily to Raich, who had trailed Miller by nearly a second.
The U.S. team did not protest.
"We looked at it enough times," program director Jesse Hunt said. "We're satisfied."
Miller was nonchalant.
"I've straddled probably more times than most people have finished the slalom," he said.
Indeed, the often-reckless American failed to finish five of seven slaloms on the World Cup circuit this season.
"If it's clear, it's clear," Miller said.