Snowboarding groove works wonders for sensational Ledecka
There are several reasons why Ester Ledecka’s shock win in the women’s super-G at PyeongChang 2018 on Saturday 17 February was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.
The first ever athlete to compete in both skiing and snowboarding at the Games, the Czech had never finished on the podium before in an Alpine event and had never finished higher than 19th in a super-G World Cup race. Ledecka only began competing on the skiing circuit in 2016 and regards herself as a far more accomplished snowboarder than skier; though, of course, that is now open to question after her exploits at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.
One remarkable aspect of her wholly unexpected victory is that it came on a pair of skis previously owned by the USA's Mikaela Shiffrin, who had dropped out of the super-G competition. It was the fastest pair available, according to Ledecka's coach Thomas Bank.
Starting 26th and with defending champion Anna Veith of Austria holding the lead with a time of 1:21.12, the Czech confounded everyone, not least herself, by going 0.01 faster to snatch the gold from Veith's grasp and thwart her bid to become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic super-G titles.
A unique double?
There seemed little to suggest the 22-year-old Czech – ranked 43rd in the super-G World Cup standings – would spring a surprise on the first half of her run. Yet on reaching the halfway point she found an extra gear and powered her way into Olympic history. If she goes on to win snowboard parallel giant slalom gold on Saturday 24 February, her status as an Olympic legend will be guaranteed. And given that she is the reigning world champion in that event, few would bet against her doing so.
"Until today, I thought I was a better snowboarder," acknowledged the multi-talented Czech after collecting her surprise gold. "I'm really looking forward to the snowboard and I think I should already switch on 'snowboard girl' now. It would be very nice to win both and I will, for sure, do my best for it.
The skier inside
"I really don't know what happened," she added, recalling the moment when she crossed the line at the end of her stunning super-G run and looked up to the scoreboard. "I thought it must be some mistake… they're going to switch the time for some others. I just saw my mum. We were looking at each other. We didn't understand."
Explaining how she had generated so much speed on the second half of the course, Ledecka commented: "I was probably the only snowboarder on site. Maybe it's part of the secret. I was standing there at the start today as a little bit of a snowboarder in my heart. All the girls are just specialists and there was a lot of pressure on them. So it was, 'Come on, let's do the best run you can, skier'."
Ledecka's versatility could be a result of her genes, as she hails from a successful sporting family. Her mother Zuzana was a successful figure skater at national level, while her grandfather, Jan Kaplac, was a member of the great Czechoslovakian ice hockey team that won world championship gold in 1972 and Olympic bronze at Innsbruck 1964 and silver at Grenoble 1968.
Kaplac was also a keen footballer, and Ledecka, whose father is a popular musician in the Czech Republic, has also tried her hand at a variety of sports, including beach volleyball and windsurfing. In her teenage years, however, she found the lure of the mountains and snow irresistible, embarking on a path that would ultimately lead to PyeongChang 2018 and one of the most eye-catching Olympic gold medal wins of all time.