Not content with being one of the world’s best snowboarders, having won world parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom titles, the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecká will also be going for glory in Alpine skiing at PyeongChang 2018.
2017 was quite a year for Ledecká. As well as winning a second consecutive overall FIS World Cup parallel title, the Czech boarder also claimed two FIS Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships medals in Sierra Nevada (ESP): silver in the parallel slalom and gold in the parallel giant slalom, the only event of the two that will be on the Olympic programme at PyeongChang 2018.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s huge,” she said after her Spanish success. “It was always my aim to compete in the two world championships this season: Alpine skiing and snowboard. And this is a huge bonus. I’ve got two medals and I’m delighted.”
The other worlds the multi-talented Czech appeared in were the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in St Moritz (SUI) in February, where she raced in the giant slalom, super G, combined and downhill. Her best result was 20th in the combined.
Queen of the parallel
Ledecká was a near-permanent fixture on the podium in the 2017 Snowboard World Cup season, winning three parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom events, finishing second in two and tenth in the other. She also competed in Alpine Ski World Cup downhill and super-G races in Garmisch (GER), Altenmarkt-Zauchensee (AUT) and Lake Louise (CAN), and achieved some excellent results on the FIS circuit, winning both speed events in the South American Cup in La Parva (CHI) in September 2017.
“It wasn’t that easy because of the schedules and everything. The races just piled up over the season,” said Ledecká in a radio interview. “But you can do it if you really want to.”
The Czech, who has been snowboarding and skiing all her life, tries to devote her time equally to the two disciplines: “Alpine skiing definitely takes up a bit more time as there are more races. In snowboard, I’ve taken part in World Cup events and nothing else, whereas in skiing it’s been the World Cup, the FIS races and the continental cups.”
Though Ledecká’s best hopes of winning a medal at PyeongChang 2018 lie in snowboard, she is not ruling anything out: “I’m definitely going to try and be the best in both sports. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
A sporting all-rounder
Ledecká was destined to make her name as an athlete. Born on 23 March 1995 in Prague, she hails from a sporting family. While her mother Zuzana was a talented figure skater, her grandfather, Jan Klapáč, was a member of the Czechoslovakia team that won Olympic ice hockey bronze at Innsbruck 1964 and silver at Grenoble 1968. Her father Janek is also a well-known singer in the Czech Republic.
A multi-talented sportswoman, Ledecká played ice hockey as a youngster and was on skis by the age of four, before later switching to snowboard. She also enjoys summer sports such as beach volleyball and windsurfing.
Ledecká was still at school when she made her Snowboard World Cup debut in 2012/13, a season in which she also lifted two junior world titles in Erzurum (TUR). Her first parallel giant slalom win came in Rogla (SLO) in 2014, and she caught the eye as a 17-year-old at Sochi 2014, finishing sixth in the parallel slalom and seventh in the parallel giant slalom.
It was then that the Czech’s career took off. She beat reigning Olympic champion Julia Dujmovits of Austria to land her first parallel slalom world title in Kreischberg (AUT) in January 2015, and then won crystal globes in the overall parallel and parallel giant slalom in the 2015/16 season.
Showcasing her versatility, Ledecká made her first Alpine Ski World Cup outing in the downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in February 2016, finishing a creditable 24th.
There’s no other way
“I decided to compete in the World Cup in the two sports a couple of years ago. The media and the fans thought it was recent decision I’d made, but I’ve been competing in both since I was a child,” she said in autumn 2017. “People here in the Czech Republic and around the world say: ‘How is that possible?’ But to me it’s the only way.”
In her second downhill race of the season, at Lake Louise (Canada) on 3 December, she came close to the podium by finishing in seventh place! She then swapped her skis for her snowboard, wining the first parallel giant slalom event of the season, in Carezza (Italy) on 14 December, where she beat Germany’s Ramona Theresia Hofmeister in the final; as well as the next race the following day, only a stone’s throw away in Cortina d'Ampezzo, this time getting the better of another German, Selina Jörg. She kicked off 2018 with another triumph in the parallel giant slalom in Lackenhof (Austria) on 5 January, when she beat local star Julia Dujmovits by knockout.
She continued her snowboarding winning streak, taking victory in Rogla (Slovenia) on 20 January with a new knockout in the final, this time against Austria’s Claudia Riegler. Ester Ledecká had won in the same place in January 2017 and had not been beaten since. In the meantime, the incredible Czech champion raced in the super G in Bad Kleinkirchheim (Austria) on 13 and 14 January, each time chalking up Alpine Skiing World Cup points.
In competing on the snowboard and Alpine skiing fronts at PyeongChang 2018, Ledecká will be doing something no other athlete has ever done at the same Olympic Winter Games before.
“I’m going to try and win as many medals as I can,” she added. “The girls will have to go faster than me if they want one, but I’m going to fight hard. My main aim will be to make the most of the races there without necessarily thinking about the gold. I’m just thinking about executing well. I can’t do any more than what I’m training for.”
Whatever happens at PyeongChang 2018, the fearless Ledecká will be one to watch out for.