Chapter 2: Ledecka wins gold again, this time on a snowboard
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — When the book is closed on these Olympics — all Olympics, really — Ester Ledecka will have her own chapter.
Though they’re both on snow, skiing and snowboarding are simply not supposed to mix.
Though she could have been expected to win at one, nobody was supposed to do what she did.
The Czech speed racer did what was considered impossible a mere week ago. She nabbed the second half of an unheard-of Olympic double by winning gold in snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom Saturday, only seven days after doing the same in skiing’s Alpine super-G.
Both these sports have well-known stars that have shined brightly over the two weeks of action on the slopes in South Korea: Chloe Kim, Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn are just a few. None have changed the conversation about what the Olympics can be in quite the manner as this soft-spoken 22-year-old from Prague, who insisted on wearing her goggles to the winner’s news conference, just as she did after her skiing win.
“Do whatever you want,” Ledecka said, when asked what the takeaway should be from her Olympic journey. “If you want to choose just one, choose one. I wanted to choose both, and a lot of people were telling me that it’s not possible to get on the top in both. And, I mean, obviously, this. It is not easy.”
She made it look easy on the last day of competition at the action park in an event that is usually considered an afterthought on the snowboarding program — but not this time.
This was no miracle on snow, a la her .01-second victory in the super-G that left her stone-faced and unbelieving at the bottom of the hill, wondering if there had been some kind of mistake. Ledecka came into that event having started in only 19 World Cup skiing races in her entire career.
She came into Saturday’s event with 14 wins, 20 podiums and two world championships on the World Cup snowboarding tour. This was her day job. She made it look that way with a wire-to-wire exhibition of tight carving, perfect lines and pure domination. Nobody could’ve been too surprised.
In PGS, the real action occurs over four elimination rounds — one-on-one racing in which the winners advance.
In a sport often decided by micro-fractions, Ledecka won one race when her opponent skidded off the course, and the others by margins of .97 seconds, .71 seconds and, in the final, by .46 seconds over Germany’s Selina Joerg.
She avoided all the typical pratfalls that can come while racing on snow, including, believe it or not, squirrels — one of which skittered in front of Austria’s Daniella Ubling and nearly lost its tail.
But maybe the best measure of Ledecka’s dominance came during the qualification rounds, which are timed to determine seeding. Her time on the faster of the two courses, 43.32 seconds, would’ve beaten seven of the men — nearly one fourth of the field — over the same track.
She says she has no desire to race the men — something Vonn has pointed toward over the past several months. But Ledecka’s win still sends a message: “For sure, there are no limits,” she said.
Her snowboard coach, Justin Reiter, said Ledecka’s journey is about more than simply being a multi-sport athlete.
“It’s about having fun and getting back to the root of sports,” he said. “It’s about stopping looking at specialization of prima donnas at 8 years old.”
It’s one thing to be diverse, quite another to be this good in the most crushing crucible in sports.
Much has been made about the similarities between skiing, which has been around for centuries, and snowboarding, still considered the brash younger brother of the snow park.
“But the thing is, it’s a different sport,” Reiter said. “It’s not ‘like’ a different sport. It is a different sport. There’s a reason there’s no one doing it at this level. ”
Reiter said the main struggle that he and Ledecka’s ski coach, Tomas Bank, go through when they transition is getting Ledecka to stop making her turns so rounded after she’s been snowboarding and to stop pointing so straight downhill after she’s been skiing.
This seven-day wait between races was more than just a technical challenge, though. The whirlwind following her improbable — impossible? — victory was hard to come down from.
“I had one week for it, and until today, I didn’t really feel good with my riding,” she said. “But today, I found the snowboarder in me.”
Where will the world find her next?
Probably not at the fast-food chicken joint she was spotted at, casually enjoying dinner on the night of her first gold medal.
“The chicken place was not so good,” she said.
Instead, she said, “I’ll get home and lie in a bed, and maybe sleep for a long while.”
It’ll be a long while before anyone sees something like this again.
“It’s impossible,” Reiter said, when asked to put the magnitude of the achievement into perspective.
“What happened here,” he said, “was once-in-a-lifetime.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org/