Column: Ester Ledecka pulls off an unprecedented double gold with victory in snowboard parallel giant slalom

Ester Ledecka powers down the parallel giant slalom course en route to her second gold medal of the 2018 Winter Games.
(Martin Bureau / Associated Press)

There wasn’t any surprise this time.

Ester Ledecka completed one of the most unlikely feats in Olympic history by pumping her right fist in the air after she sped across the finish line for the snowboard parallel giant slalom at the Phoenix Snow Park. She hugged second-place Selina Joerg of Germany, then dropped to her knees as the crowd roared and she took in the victory.

This wasn’t an ordinary moment at the Pyeong-chang Olympics, wasn’t an ordinary gold medal and certainly wasn’t an ordinary Olympian.

The 22-year-old sensation from the Czech Republic became the first woman to win gold medals in different sports at the same Olympics, adding the snowboarding medal Saturday to last week’s Alpine skiing gold.


Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland won the men’s parallel giant slalom, defeating Lee Sangho of South Korea.

Ledecka introduced herself to the world on the steep hill at the Jeongseong Alpine Center a week ago.

She entered the super-G ranked as the 68th-best skier in the world and starting 26th, not the position medal contenders usually come from. The big names, the favorites had already finished. Even NBC cut away, believing the race had been decided.

Enter Ledecka.

Somehow, some way, she blazed through the course faster than any other woman that day. When she looked up at the scoreboard and saw the time, she froze.

“I felt it was a mistake,” Ledecka said afterward.

She stood in the finish area, not quite believing what had happened.

The win changed everything for the daughter of Janek Ledecky, one of the Czech Republic’s most well-known composers. Already, Ledecka planned to make history at the Pyeongchang Olympics by competing in Alpine skiing and snowboarding events.

For most athletes, the difficulty of competing at the world’s highest level in two related, but significantly different sports, would be more than enough.

Not Ledecka. She trains in Steamboat Springs, Colo., with former U.S. Olympic snowboarder Justin Reiter. In a world where athletes focus on their discipline with religious fervor, she has the gift to remain world class while dividing her attention.

“For somebody, anybody, to take ski racing to another level, it takes a ton of hard work, focus, determination, an incredible amount of athleticism,” said Mikaela Shiffrin, the U.S. Alpine skier who won two medals at the Games. “I think everyone was thinking, ‘What are we doing wrong? I thought this sport was hard.’ Well apparently not.

“It’s an incredible example for young, aspiring skiers and snowboarders, freestylers, anybody.”

The super-G win — one of the biggest upsets in Alpine history — transformed Ledecka into the unexpected story of the Games. Even the start of her postrace news conference became a signature moment — she didn’t remove her ski goggles because she hadn’t worn makeup, not expecting to be in this position.

The astonishment wasn’t in sight Saturday.

Instead, Ledecka looked calm and confident as she zipped through her first three races, then cruised to the win in the final. She looked every bit the snowboarder who is the world champion in the event where she has been competing on the World Cup circuit since 2012.

Now Ledecka has a second gold medal. And a piece of history.

Team title

Switzerland knocked off top-seeded Austria in the gold-medal race during the Olympic debut of the Alpine team event.

Norway edged France for bronze as the Alpine ski program came to a close.

In the final match of the afternoon, leading 2-1, Swiss ski racer Daniel Yule wrapped up the win when Austrian rival Marco Schwarz skied out along the side-by-side parallel slalom course.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno