Do you know who Ester Ledecka is?
Before Saturday’s Olympic women’s super-G race, the 22-year-old Czech athlete was more widely known for her talents on a snowboard than her exploits on skis. After all, she has only started in 19 World Cup races in her career and hasn’t finished better than 19th in a World Cup super-G. All that changed on Saturday when she pulled off the one upset to rule them all and beat the best female skiers in the world by the slimmest of margins to take Olympic super-G gold.
Ledecka is the reigning parallel giant slalom gold medalist and parallel slalom silver medalist from last season’s snowboarding World Championships.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ledecka is a snowboarder. A snowboarder is now an Olympic gold medalist in alpine skiing.
By the time Ledecka took to the Jeongseon course with bib 26, American Olympic broadcaster NBC had already called the race for Austria’s Anna Veith, declared that nobody after bib 20 had a chance at a medal, cued the Olympic fanfare, rolled the dramatic b-roll footage, and cut to men’s figure skating.
Open mouth. Insert foot.
To their credit, NBC did come back to Jeongseon later in the broadcast to show Ledecka’s gold medal run, but everyone knows that in ski racing, it ain’t over till it’s over.
Ledecka is much more than she appears on the surface, however. On skis at age two and a snowboard at age five, she has fostered a love of both sports and, simply put, just could not bring herself to choose between the two and has competed in both ever since.
Ledecka only started racing on the alpine World Cup in 2016 and has been a solid top-30 performer in the downhill and super-G races she has entered in between her snowboard events. A winning downhill training run followed up by a seventh-place finish in Lake Louise, Canada, to kick off this season was the first time she really started to turn a few heads in the ski racing world.
Post-race reports have pointed to a favorable wind and the fact that Ledecka ran on a pair of American Mikaela Shiffrin’s skis as factors in her victory, but make no mistake: It was Ledecka’s skiing that won her super-G gold.
Ledecka crossed the line after a wild run that looked to be on the verge of disaster at several points to a finish clock that had her in the lead by 0.01 seconds ahead of Veith. At first, Ledecka was sure that something with the timing had gone awry.
“I was wondering what had just happened,” she shared. “Is this a mistake? I was thinking, ‘OK, they’re going to change the time, I’m going to wait for a little bit then they’re going to put some more seconds on.’ I was just staring at the board and nothing was happening and everyone was screaming and I started to think, ‘OK, this is weird.'”
Before her miraculous super-G performance, Ledecka did not have plans to compete in the women’s downhill — which has actually been her better event on the World Cup — because of the fast-approaching snowboard events. Needless to say, all of that might change in the coming days.
“Until today, I thought I was a better snowboarder,” she said. “I’m sure my ski coach will be a little bit pushy on (me doing) the downhill but my snowboard coach wants me on the snowboard. So it’s like when you have a father and mother who are switching their children. My skiing and snowboarding coaches are switching me every time. 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.”
Although missing out on an Olympic gold medal by 0.01 seconds definitely stings, Veith’s silver tasted just as sweet as gold. The Austrian star and defending Olympic super-G champion has had serious doubts as to whether she would ever return to the top of the sport after suffering a devastating knee injury in the fall of 2015 that she is still recovering from.
“I won everything today because after two years, I never knew whether I could get back into shape again (after my injury) or ever get the chance to go to the Olympics,” she admitted. “It was already a success for me just to be be here and now I have a medal; it’s unbelievable.”
“First, I couldn’t believe it had happened but afterwards (to lose the gold by) one-hundredth of a second, it was just a big surprise,” she continued. “I thought, ‘Is this true or not?’ It’s just one-hundredth of a second, but this is our sport. I’m happy with the silver and Ester deserved gold.”
Bronze medalist Tina Weirather delivered Liechtenstein’s first Olympic alpine medal since Paul Frommelt won bronze in the Calgary 1988 slalom.
“I skied really well,” she said of her performance. “There were plenty of racers today that had no chance because of the wind. You want a fair race. Today you needed the luck. Today I was lucky.”
American Speed Queen Lindsey Vonn ran with bib one and was enjoying a solid run until a sizeable mistake in the final turn towards the finish cost her precious tenths of a second and a shot at another Olympic medal. Vonn eventually settled for a tie for sixth with Italy’s Federica Brignone.
“Number one is always really difficult, especially in super-G,” Vonn said in the finish. “We haven’t been on this trail yet this year. I think it was a pretty big disadvantage, to be honest. There was a little bit of fluff left on the course and unfortunately I got some headwind in the middle section, the winds were changing for every racer but I attacked. I gave it everything and I have no regrets. I made a mistake on the bottom but, you know, that’s what happens in super-G.”
Following Vonn was a trio of Americans as Breezy Johnson, Laurenne Ross, and Alice McKennis finished in 14th, 15th, and 16th place, respectively.
The women now begin downhill training runs ahead of the Olympic women’s downhill on Feb. 21.
1. Ester Ledecka (CZE) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Anna Veith (AUT) – Head/Head/Head
3. Tina Weirather (LIE) – Head/Head/Head
4. Lara Gut (SUI) – Head/Head/Head
5. Johanna Schnarf (ITA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
6. Lindsey Vonn (USA) – Head/Head/Head
6. Federica Brignone (ITA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
7. Cornelia Huetter (AUT) – Head/Head/Head
8. Michelle Gisin (SUI) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
9. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) – Stoeckli/Lange
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|36||43||465098||CAILL Ania Monica||1995||ROU||1:25.74||+4.63||61.65|
|Did not finish|
|Did not start|