Ester Ledecka exclusive: "Inside I still feel like half snowboarder and half skier"

After making history in South Korea four years ago, when she won gold in both alpine and snowbording, the multi-talented Czech will have a go again in two sports at Beijing 2022: “I can still do a triple or even a quadruple!"

8 min By Alessandro Poggi
(Picture by 2018 Getty Images)

Alpine skier or snowboarder? Two-time Olympic champion Ester Ledecka still considers herself a ‘double threat’.

"Inside, I still feel like [I am] half snowboarder and half skier," she shared with us at an Atomic media event before the start of the 2021/22 season.

Four years ago, in PyeongChang, the Czech multi-talented star made history by becoming the first woman to win gold medals in two different sports at a Winter Games.

As an almost unknown underdog, she first beat all the alpine speed specialists in the Olympic Super G; then as an overwhelming favourite, she took the snowboard parallel giant slalom title seven days later.

At Beijing 2022, Ester is aiming to compete in both disciplines again, but this time the snowboarding event is scheduled earlier (8 February), just three days ahead of her first ski race (11 February) which would be the Super G, where she's defending champion.

Ester Ledecka during skiing training in Switzerland
Ester Ledecka during skiing training in Switzerland (2021 Getty Images)

Ledecka admits that having the snowboarding first 'could be an advantage'.

“I just want to keep it simple and I’m there to enjoy myself" - Ester Ledecka to Olympics.com

Combining the two sports is what she wants to do, at least for the moment, but don't ask her an exact racing plan for the rest of the season.

"It depends on my feeling in that exact time of the season," she explained. "And if I just feel that if I want to go snowboarding, I go snowboarding and nothing is going to stop me. And it's also the other way around!"

The 26-year-old plans to continue her progress in skiing: in the last two campaigns, she racked up five World Cup podiums, including two wins. But she is also aiming to further her snowboarding career after a season where she only raced once. Is a double victory still possible in China? “I can still do a triple or even a quadruple," she said. "There is still a lot of space for improvement.”

Below you can find the transcript of the interview with Ledecka, which has been edited for clarity purposes.

Ester Ledecka interview: Don't mention the Olympics

Olympics.com: How are you approaching this Olympic season?

Ester Ledecka: I was never the type who is concentrated only on the Olympics. I think this doesn't work anyway for anyone generally speaking (laughs)... But I also think that there are many other important races, so I'm trying to do my best to prepare well for them. And yes, for sure, there is an Olympics, and I'm looking forward to it because I saw the hill, the downhill, and it looks awesome. And I also got the chance to [try] the snowboard hill, which is also very, very fun to ride.

O: Is it true that you banned your team to use the word ‘Olympics’ before PyeongChang 2018?

EL: Yes... I just have this feeling that I am very unique in this kind of view on the season that I don't have this on my mind every day, like, 'OK, we go to the Olympics'…

I see that not only the athletes around me, but also many coaches, have [the Olympics] on their minds every day. I just don't want this to become like ‘Olympic panic’. I just want them to focus [on] every other race and not just focus on that one race. And it's helping me to remind myself that every time I stand on the start, and it doesn't matter if it's Olympics, a FIS race, or anything - I will do my best.

Ester Ledecka celebrates her snowboard win at PyeongChang 2018
Ester Ledecka celebrates her snowboard win at PyeongChang 2018 (2018 Getty Images)

That's why I'm little a bit allergic for when someone from my team [says], 'OK... [we] have to do this and that to be prepared for the Olympics'.

The season is very long and we have many, many races and, for sure, many things can happen in the middle of that. But, we have to be prepared for every race and go 100 percent. That's the way it works for me. And, if they want to be in my team, it should work for them too!

O: How would your team refer to the Games without using the word ‘Olympics’?

EL: I don't know how to translate it. It's in Czech… We called [it] the 'Korea friendship race' (laughs). There a lot of friends from other countries, a lot of friends from other sports. So, it was like the ‘Korea friendship race’ and this is the ‘China friendship race’.

Ester Ledecka interview: Still planning to compete in both snowboarding and skiing

O: Are you still planning to combine snowboarding and skiing in Beijing? What’s going to be your strategy?

EL: Yes, although I don't have the exact schedule in my mind. I just heard that the snowboarding is [before] skiing, which I feel could be an advantage if we can use it in a good way... I hope that there is enough space... between snowboarding and skiing. I didn't really look!

My coaches need to know the schedule and how to deal with it. I just want to keep it simple. I'm there to enjoy myself... snowboard, ski…and we'll see!

O: Last season you only raced once in snowboarding event, when you won the World Cup PGS in Cortina d’Ampezzo Italy. Why?

EL: That was not in the original plan... I had some problems with my back... I didn't want it to push too much, and I stayed with skiing more.

But I really worked on it the whole summer and I built the muscles, which were not helping so much last season. So, hopefully they will help this season more to protect my back and to protect my overall health, and to be able to switch from one sport to another without any problem.

Ester Ledecka trains in Switzerland
Ester Ledecka trains in Switzerland (2020 Getty Images)

O: In the last couple of seasons, you raced more in skiing, has your focus shifted a little bit towards one sport?

EL: Inside, I still feel like [I am] half snowboarder and half skier. The thing is that we wanted to see what is possible for me in the overall rankings in skiing. So we wanted to do more skiing World Cup [events] so I can see if I'm able to get in the top 10 in [some] disciplines or overall. We didn't know what was possible and I learned that it is possible.

But the problem is that when I want to try it, it's even more difficult to fit the snowboard racing schedule because it's at the same time. And if I want to compete in both, then I have to cancel some ski races, and that means that I lose a lot of points in the overall rankings.

For instance, [to] fight for globes in skiing, I really need to be really good and I need to be present on every race possible in the speed disciplines.

So, it really depends on how the races will be scheduled for this season.

I'm focused about getting [to] the Olympics in both sports again, enjoy the Olympics, and then see how the season develops. I had many questions about how I'm going to schedule the races, but most of the time it depends on my feeling in that exact time of the season. And if I just feel that if I want to go snowboarding, I go snowboarding and nothing is going to stop me.

Ester Ledecka interview: Top 10 World Cup finishes in skiing

O: Last season you consistently established yourself in the top-10 in World Cup speed races, what does it take to try to aim for globes or medals at major events?

EL: I think if someone sees my career, step by step, year by year, you can see that I'm improving. It's not like going to the top and then back, like that one race in South Korea. But when you see [all of the results], I was improving that season too. I just wasn't on that level that I would be able to reach [the podium] more than once through the season.

Then the next season, I [took] a step a little [further] and then more, and more. So, I feel I'm going in [the] right direction, for sure.

Even though I am now a much better skier, and I have much more experience, I still [don't have the] experience, which I would consider is enough for me to be able to win every race.

I'm trying to reach that, for sure, and I'm still gaining [the] experience [from] every training, every turn.

O: How does it feel going to the Olympics and knowing that [the double gold medal] may already be the highlight of your career?

EL: Well, there are two things. First of all, I think I still can do the triple or quadruple. There is still a lot of space for improvement. And secondly, it's an amazing feeling that I will be coming to the Olympics as the Olympic champion already and nobody can take this away from me.

I don't even have to finish my run and I'll be still [be the reigning] Olympic champion, which is kind of cool. I'll do my best to finish it and I'll do my best to finish it as the fastest one. I will do my best to finish it and enjoy it. But this is just a good a bonus to have in my pocket already.

O: What’s your mantra or motto for this season?

EL: I'm not much into mantras, but during my whole life I'm trying to do what I like and I just want to enjoy every run. And if this will happen this season and I will lose every single run, but I'll enjoy it, that's enough for me.

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