In the space of a week, Ester Ledecka earned a place in Olympic Winter Games history. The best female Alpine snowboarding specialist in the world, she began by surprising all the favourites in the skiing super-G, before winning the snowboard giant slalom final comfortably. Winning in two sports in the same Games is a feat that has never been seen before. Her incredulous expression in the finish area of the super-G in Jeongseon will remain one of the iconic images of the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
On Sunday 17 February, Ester Ledecka sent shockwaves through the Jeongseon Alpine Centre with a fluid, rapid and precise performance in the number 26 bib to take the win by 0.01 seconds, ahead of the title holder Anna Veith (Austria) and the rest of the Alpine skiing speed queens. The image of the totally incredulous Czech champion in the finish area will remain in Olympic memories for a long time to come. A week later, the Alpine snowboarding specialist and world champion, who had been virtually unbeatable in the season up until then, easily beat Selina Jörg (Germany) in the parallel giant slalom final to enter the record books as the winner of two gold medals at the same Winter Games in two different snow sports – the first on two planks, the second on one! Exceptional! The standout feat of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games.
In the autumn of 2017, the granddaughter of the Czech ice hockey star Jan Klapáč (double Olympic champion, world champion in 1972) said in anticipation of these Games: "I am without a doubt going to try to be the best in the two sports and we'll see." Who would have believed it back then? "Since the beginning, people have said to me: 'You cannot do both sports, you have to specialise or you will never reach the highest level.' Since I was 14, my coaches have told me: 'You must make a choice and blah, blah, blah.' I'd say to them: 'I will do them both, and if that bothers you, I will find another coach because this is how it is going to be." And that's how it came about that Ester Ledecka proved to the whole world that her unprecedented path to the Winter Games was a well-chosen one.
In the end, she has developed through both sports. Her Alpine skiing coach, Tomas Bank, explains: "Snowboarding gives her great balance and feeling, and skiing helps her snowboarding because it's faster. Snowboarding must feel like slow motion to her. Her opponents have never been as fast as she's been." Her snowboard coach, Justin Reiter, added: "The only problem with her is that she doesn't want to get off the slope. She always wants more runs." After witnessing the phenomenon first-hand, the French Alpine snowboarding specialist Sylvain Dufour commented: “On a snowboard, she is miles ahead of the rest of the field. Out of six races before the Games, she won five. The only race she did not win was the slalom. She is a monster on a snowboard." Further confirmation of this came as she won the last event of the season, in Scuol (Switzerland) on 10 March, to easily take the Crystal Globe in the discipline... for a third consecutive year.
As the FIS explained, "the route leading Ester Ledcka to professional sports was paved from the day she was born," – 23 March 1995 (Prague). Her mother, Zuzana, is an experienced figure skater, her father Janek is a famous singer in the Czech Republic and her grandfather, Jan Klapáč, was a member of the Czechoslovakian ice hockey team that took the bronze in Innsbruck in 1964 and the silver in Grenoble in 1968. Ester has worn multiple sporting hats from an early age, starting with ice hockey, then skiing at the age of four, before trying her hand at snowboarding. She plays the guitar, loves to sing, and also enjoys summer sports such as beach volleyball and sailing.
She was still in secondary education when she first joined the snowboard World Cup circuit in the 2012-2013 season. In March of the same winter, she was also crowned double junior world champion in Erzurum (Turkey). Ester won her first victory in parallel giant slalom in January 2014 in Rogla (Slovenia) and then attracted attention at Sochi 2014 where, aged 17, she finished sixth in the parallel slalom, and seventh in the parallel giant slalom. She then quickly advanced to the top of the discipline, winning her first World Championship gold in parallel slalom on 22 January 2015 in Kreischberg (Austria), by beating the Austrian Olympic title holder Julia Dujmovits in the final. She then went on to win two Crystal Globes (overall for the parallel and giant parallel slalom) at the end of the 2015-2016 season. And on 6 February 2016, she competed in her first Alpine skiing World Cup event, the Garmisch-Partenkirchen downhill, where she earned seven points for finishing in 24th place.
At the age of 21, during the 2016-2017 season, Ester took the overall parallel snowboarding World Cup title and won two medals in March at the FIS World Championships in Sierra Nevada (Spain): silver in the parallel slalom to begin with, then gold in the parallel giant slalom, the Olympic discipline. "It is a dream that is becoming a reality. It's huge," she said in the Andalusian mountains. "It was my goal to participate in two World Championships this season, in Alpine skiing and in snowboarding, and this is the icing on the cake: I have two medals, I am delighted." Ester participated in the giant slalom, super-G, combined and downhill at the World Ski Championships in St Moritz (Switzerland) in February, obtaining her best result in the combined: 20th.
During the Olympic winter season, she continued her heavy domination in parallel snowboard slalom, and secured her best result in the Alpine Skiing World Cup: seventh in the downhill at Lake Louise on 2 December 2017. But in the super-G, her best result before the Games was 19th place. After her majestic feat in Korea, and her victory in the final giant parallel slalom of the season, she went on to win a giant slalom on the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit in Les Ménuires (France) on 6 April. In short, what seemed impossible had become possible for the Czech champion, who surely has no intention of stopping when she is performing so well! Nobody yet knows her limits.
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