When snowboarder Ester Ledecka got to the bottom of the skiing Super G course at Pyeongchang, she thought the timekeepers had cocked up. “I thought this must be some mistake, that they're going to switch the time for some others," she said. But what she was reading was no error. The Czech snowboarder had just won the gold medal in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic skiing history.
Her victory was deemed so unlikely that US broadcaster NBC had already called the race for Austrian Anna Veith, a call they had to row back on embarrassingly. In their defence, it was the longest of long shots. Ledecka came into the race having never finished in the top 20 of a World Cup on skis before. She didn’t even own the pair of skis she competed on - she’d borrowed them off American alpine star Mikaela Shiffrin.
“Among the skiers she’d defeated was none other than Lindsey Vonn, who finished off down in sixth place."
But regardless of the circumstances, this was an incredible feat of skill. Among the skiers she’d defeated was none other than Lindsey Vonn, who finished off down in sixth place. So how did a snowboarder end up claiming the top spot in one of the most prestigious ski disciplines?
Ledecka has apparently always been adept on both skis and a board, but she only started competing on the World Cup circuit on skis in 2016.
Before that she’d focussed the bulk of her time and effort on Parallel Giant Slalom (PGS) - snowboarding’s racing discipline. It’s an event she’s been very successful at, winning multiple World Cup golds and two World Championships in 2015 and 2017.
On paper there are similarities between the two sports - both involve sliding down snowy hills at high speed. But that’s about where the similarity ends. As the BBC’s Ed Leigh put it: “It's like badminton and tennis. While the theory is the same, the strategy and technique are polar opposites."
"It's like badminton and tennis. While the theory is the same, the strategy and technique are polar opposites."
Ledecka finished seventh at the Sochi Olympics in PGS, but having taken up ski racing, came into these games determined to race on both one plank and two - becoming the first person ever to do so.
She’ll certainly be in contention when the ladies PGS kicks off on Thursday, but no-one - least of all Ledecka herself - expected her to be stood on the top of a podium before then. The look on her face as she saw that time will no doubt be one of the most enduring, and endearing, images of these games.
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