Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - Ted Ligety skidded out, sliding onto his left side.

No, the American skier hadn't just blown another chance to take his rightful place as the Olympic giant slalom champion.

He was celebrating.

In clear conditions at the Rosa Khutor course, Ligety carved out a big lead with a masterful morning run Wednesday that all but guaranteed him the gold barring a big mistake in the afternoon.

Teammate Bode Miller called it a "clutch performance." You might call it a moment eight years in the making.

Ligety took a lead of .93 seconds into the second run, then held on to beat France's Steve Missillier by .48 seconds for his second Olympic gold medal but first in the event he's dominated for years on the World Cup circuit.

Ligety finished with a combined time of 2 minutes, 45.29 seconds, winning the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics for the U.S. alpine skiing team.

Alexis Pinturault earned the bronze behind his French teammate.

Widely considered the best giant slalom skier of his generation, Ligety skied out of the race in 2006 and finished ninth in 2010.

Until he filled the biggest hole in his resume on Wednesday, Ligety's greatest Olympic feat had been a surprising win in the men's combined as a 21-year-old in 2006.

"Today was awesome. There's not really any other way to put it," said Ligety. "This is something I've been working for since I was a little kid. Being the favorite in alpine skiing is never easy, because it's an event that's so far from being guaranteed and not an event that's super simple to win even if you're skiing the best in the world."

Miller finished 2.53 seconds behind Ligety in 20th place in what could be the 36-year-old's final Olympic race. Miller became the oldest Olympic medalist in alpine skiing on Sunday when he tied for bronze in the Super-G for his sixth Olympic medal, including a silver in the giant slalom in 2002.

"It's asking a bit much of my left knee still on those kinds of bumps. Right in the middle, there's a left-footed turn that just seems like crazy big bumps. I just look at it thinking maybe I could do it, but confidence-wise I don't feel comfortable dropping it in that way and it's cost me both runs there. This is pretty aggressive stuff for the lower leg," noted Miller.

Ligety is only the second American skier with two Olympic alpine gold medals after Andrea Mead Lawrence, who won both women's slalom events at the 1952 Oslo Games.

He finished his first run in 1:21.08 and had the 14th-fastest time in his second run, 1:24.21 -- more than a second slower than Missillier but good enough.

Ligety appeared relieved at the bottom of the hill, sliding into the snow and exhaling.

Defending Olympic champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland finished in 13th place and Sochi downhill gold medalist Matthias Mayer of Austria ended sixth.