Ted Ligety won his first Olympic medal 12 years ago when he skied to gold in the men's combined at the Turin Winter Games. When he leans out of the start house atop a South Korean slope later this month, eyes gazing over the ribbon of icy snow in front of him, he'll be vying for his third Olympic gold medal.
Plenty has changed since the Salt Lake City native, who also owns five gold world championshp medals -- three of them in giant slalom -- first reached the world's biggest athletic stage and became the youngest American man to finish atop the podium in an Olympic race. Just 21 when he first captured Olympic gold in 2006, "Ted the Shred" Ligety is now 33, a husband, a father, an entrepreneur and, internationally, one of the faces of the United States Ski Team..
"I was still living with my parents, still a newbie on the World Cup," Ligety told CBSSports.com on Thursday about his first Olympic medal, days before the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. "Nowadays, it's a totally different world."
It's also totally different because of how Ligety, who owns 25 wins and 52 podium finishes in his World Cup racing career, began his skiing days.
He'll forever be known as a star of his youth thanks to his upset win in Turin, where two favored skiers failed to finish the slalom segment of a combined men's event. And he was no slouch just before that, either, making his World Cup debut in 2004 as a teenager after graduating from Utah's Winter Park School.
But Ligety, despite first taking up the skis at age 2 and recalling that "the mountain was my babysitter," wasn't always convinced he'd be Olympic material.
"As a kid, I was maybe the fourth or fifth best kid on the local ski club," he said. "So I far and away exceeded my expectations. When I won my first gold, I was in shock. My parents were in shock. I still pinch myself thinking I'm a gold medalist."
Fast forward to 2018, and Ligety's still in awe, albeit with added perspective. He needed no more motivation than a continued love for ski racing to compete at this year's Winter Olympics, where he'll also be promoting his childhood passion for Oreos thanks to a partnership with Nabisco. He's also accepted the fact that his own improbable journey isn't the only one that matters anymore.
"While I'm competing, it's hard to really fathom what I've done in the sport so far," he said, "(but) it's definitely a different world now. I've got my son on the road for six months straight. And his lack of concern for what I'm doing is refreshing."
Ligety's son, Jax, is just seven months old, which means he's only a year and a half away from his dad's first training age. But it's Jax's current disinterest in the sport -- "I took him on the path skiing," Ligety said, "and he wasn't super enthused" -- that offers that added perspective and, ultimately, takes away any of the pressure that comes with replicating gold-medal success.
When Ligety is perched atop the slopes this time around, he'll know, at least in his own home, that no matter how he performs, whether or not those two gold medals are joined by a third, he'll be a star.
He'll also know, without a doubt, that he was never destined to be just another skier -- something like fourth or fifth best -- on the slopes.