Czech snowboarder causes shock to win super-G on borrowed skis
Ester Ledecka said that until now she thought she was a much better snowboarder
Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic competes during the Alpine Skiing Ladies Super-G on day eight of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Ester Ledecka, the world champion snowboarder from the Czech Republic, delivered one of the biggest upsets in Winter Olympics history on Saturday, coming out of nowhere to win the women’s super-G by the slimmest of margins as Lindsey Vonn failed to deliver an expected medal in her opening race of the Pyeongchang Games.
Ledecka, who is the first ever athlete to compete in both skiing and snowboarding at the Olympics, finished with a winning time of 1min 21.12sec to pip Austria’s Anna Veith by one-hundredth of a second. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, who finished 0.11sec off the pace, won the bronze.
“Until today,” Ledecka said, “I thought I was a better snowboarder.”
Veith, the defending Olympic champion in the super-G, was in first after the top 20 racers had completed their runs with a successful defence of her Sochi title all but assured. Indeed, NBC had already named her as winner before Ledecka’s run and later had to apologise.
But Ledecka, racing out of the 26th position on skis borrowed from American star Mikaela Shiffrin, completed a career-best run to snatch the gold from the the two-time overall World Cup champion. The look of confusion that washed across the 22-year-old Czech’s face as she looked up at her winning time will endure as one of these Olympics’ most memorable images.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Ledecka said, adding she initially thought the results on the scoreboard were incorrect. “This must be some mistake, they’re going to switch the time for some others. I just saw my mum, we were watching each other, we didn’t understand.”
She added: “I was probably the only snowboarder on site. All the other girls didn’t risk a lot. There must be a lot of pressure on them. I was just trying to do my best run.”
No less shocked was Veith, whose fairy-tale ending to a comeback from a major knee injury that required surgery last year was upended in the final reel.
“My first reaction was, is this possible?,” the 28-year-old said. “Then (came) Ester. Because she does snowboarding, we didn’t know how strong she is. She deserves it, I want to congratulate her.”
Vonn was first out of the gate among the field after the start was delayed by an hour due to high winds. The super-G is the more technical of alpine skiing’s speed disciplines and not the American’s best event, but Vonn still entered among the favorites on a run of promising form in her first Olympic race since 2010.
At those Vancouver Games, Vonn won gold in the downhill and bronze in the super-G. This time the 33-year-old was largely clean on the top half but nearly wiped out on a wide turn near the bottom, a costly mistake that put her medal hopes in jeopardy with 43 racers still to go. She finished 0.38sec behind the winner in a tie for sixth.
“I attacked,” Vonn said. “Unfortunately, I got a headwind in the middle section, but I attacked. I’m disappointed, but I’m not upset.”
Vonn will have another chance to become the oldest ever female Olympic medalist in alpine skiing next week in the downhill, her signature event, and the alpine combined, which consists of one downhill run and one slalom run.
“I’ve had a roller coaster the last eight years with so many injuries, but I’m here, I’m healthy,” she said. “I have two more races left, so I hope those will go a little bit better.”
The American recalled her surprise when Ledecka beat her in a downhill training run at Lake Louise in November: “But that was a training run,” she said. “This was the Olympics.”
Vonn added: “It’s definitely shocking. I wish I had as much athleticism as she has that I could just hop from sport to sport and just, like, win everything. But unfortunately, I’m only good at ski racing – and she still beat me.”
Ledecka, who currently ranks 43rd on the World Cup super-G standings and has never finished higher than 19th in the discipline at a World Cup event, made history by even competing in Friday’s race.
With her extraordinary victory, the Czech landed on an alpine skiing podium for the first time in her career, giving her a chance to complete an unprecedented ski-snowboard double when she competes in the parallel giant slalom competition starting Thursday.
“I’m really looking forward to the snowboard and I think I should already switch on ‘snowboard girl’ now,” she said. “It would be very nice (to win both) and I will, for sure, do my best for it.”
Meanwhile, Izzy Atkin became the first British skier to win an Olympic medal after a nerveless final run earned her bronze in the ladies’ ski slopestyle.
The 19-year-old, who was born in the US to a British father and Malaysian mother, was in fourth place going into her last of three runs, but then landed all her tricks to finish with 84.80 points. – Guardian service