Winter Olympics: Ester Ledecka – the snowboarder who won gold on borrowed skis

Winter Olympics 2018: Snowboard specialist Ester Ledecka shocks rivals to win super G gold

What do you do when you can’t choose between skiing and snowboarding?

Well, if you’re Ester Ledecka, you do both. You even take your indecision to Olympic level.

The 22-year-old Czech had never stood on an alpine skiing World Cup podium. But the early hours of Saturday morning saw her take the greatest prize in the sport, stunning even herself to win Olympic super G gold.

“I thought there must be some mistake, I thought they’d switch the times for someone else’s!” Ledecka said, her mouth agape as her time flashed up on the big screen.

She didn’t even own the skis on which she raced – her equipment borrowed from giant slalom gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin.

Ledecka denied defending champion Anna Veith what seemed a certain successive gold by just one hundredth of a second, with the Austrian having already started to give celebratory interviews.

But not only did she deprive Veith of that much-desired second gold, her result pushed back two-time Olympic medallist Lindsey Vonn into sixth, after the American – competing at her first Olympics since 2010 – made a costly mistake.

No-one could have predicted the path the race would take, with BBC commentator Matt Chilton describing Ledecka’s victory as “one of the most astonishing Olympic stories of all time”.

But it was perhaps Vonn who summed it up best, saying: “I wish I had as much athleticism as she has to hop from sport to sport and win everything.

“Unfortunately I’m only good at ski racing and she still beat me!”

Already a star in snowboarding

Multi-talented: Ledecka in action in snowboard competition

Ledecka only started on the skiing circuit in 2016 with her super G World Cup best just 19th – coming in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Lake Louise last season – but snowboarding is where it’s truly at for her.

As the world champion and with five World Cup titles to her name this season, next week’s parallel giant slalom is where you’d have expected heavy-favourite Ledecka to be winning gold prior to the start of the Games.

Even silver medallist Veith – whose fairytale return from injury was dashed at the very end by Ledecka – wasn’t aware of her abilities, admitting she didn’t know “how strong” the Czech was.

Ledecka became a double junior world champion in the parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom in 2013 while still at high school, before making her Olympic debut in Sochi the following year.

It was 2015, however, when the world really took notice as she was crowned parallel slalom world champion for the first time, before adding the parallel giant slalom title to her haul in 2017.

But 2018 could be her best year yet.

Asked whether her snowbaording prowess helped her before her gold-medal run, she said: “For today I took confidence from snowboarding.

“I was standing at the start and I said to myself, ‘This is my dream, at the last Olympics you were here on just a snowboard, now you’re here on skis, so go do your best run’.

“From skiing for snowboard, I take the fast speed, I’m not afraid of the speed. I just focus on riding downhill, that’s all. Every time.

“I’ve just got on with it since I was a little child and throughout my career I’ve had luck in meeting good people, and I have a great team. They’re very supportive and professional and maybe that’s why I’m up here right now.”

Anna Veith (Austria, silver) Ester Ledecka (Czech Republic, gold) and Tina Weirather (Liechtenstein, bronze) on the super G podium

Now history beckons

While Ledecka will enjoy her winning moment against the cream of alpine skiing, her Olympic campaign is not over just yet.

On Thursday, she will switch the skis for her preferred snowboard in the ladies’ parallel giant slalom – in doing so becoming the first athlete to compete in both snowboard and skiing at the Olympics.

Should she win another gold medal, it would elevate the scale of her feat to another level entirely.

But the Ledecka family are no strangers to success at the Olympics – her grandfather Jan Klapac won bronze at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck before winning silver four years later in Grenoble for the then-Czechoslovakia ice hockey team.

Ester’s Pyeongchang gold medal completes the set for the Ledeckas but, at just 22 years old, you sense there is plenty more to come.

‘An astonishing achievement’ – analysis

Ski Sunday commentator Ed Leigh: “It’s like being great at badminton and tennis. While the theory is the same, the strategy and technique are polar opposites.

“It’s not like Ester grew up just doing alpine, she has always done both codes and has somehow perfected both sports.

“Her achievement in the super G was astonishing and it will be truly amazing if she also wins a medal in snowboard parallel giant slalom.”

BBC Sport skiing expert Graham Bell: “What Ester does is she trains three weeks alpine skiing then three weeks snowboarding. She has done that her entire career.

“She didn’t want to give either up because she loved it so much. It is a massive shock because she has never even placed on a World Cup podium. To do two completely different sports is incredible.”

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