PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ester Ledecka, the Alpine skier and snowboarder from the Czech Republic, will talk to herself when she is in different modes.
Before her thrilling and shocking super-G gold-medal run — a run that surprised her so much she thought her time on the board was a mistake — she gave herself a reminder. “So it was, ‘Come on, let’s do the best run you can, skier,’ ” she said after the super-G win last week.
But as soon as she was done with her skiing program at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics (she also placed 23rd in the giant slalom), she had to change roles and morph into the reigning world champion in snowboard parallel giant slalom that she is.
“I think I should already switch on ‘snowboard girl’ now,” she said after her super-G victory.
On Saturday at Phoenix Snow Park, the 22-year-old was indeed the best “snowboard girl,” capturing gold in the snowboard parallel giant slalom, finishing nearly two seconds faster than any other competitor in the qualifiers before winning all four knockout rounds by 0.40 seconds or better. “Today, it’s big day for snowboard Ester,” she said Saturday.
A dream she has had since she was 5 years old was realized when she became the first woman to win a gold medal in two sports at the Winter Games. So many had told her along the way that she could not or should not pursue both sports, that she could not do it.
“Today I proved it is possible,” she said, “and I’m very happy that I have my team around me, which were very professional and supportive today, and all these years they’re with me, so I’m very grateful for them.”
Ledecka, the only athlete competing on both World Cup circuits for ski and snowboard racing, has undertaken a training and competition schedule that even she would not advise for others. “It’s quite heavy, I don’t recommend,” she said earlier at these Games. Even her snowboard coach, Justin Reiter, the former US snowboarder, doubted as recently as last fall that Ledecka could perform at a high level in both.
“I always doubted if it was possible,” Reiter said Saturday. “But you never doubt Ester.”
Mike Trapp, a US Olympic parallel giant slalom snowboarder from Cape Cod who trains alongside Ledecka and under Reiter, said being able to do two sports comes down to the heart of the athlete, and that is why Ledecka has excelled.
“Her resilience to say, ‘No, I want to do what I want to do’ because that’s kind of her motto,” he said. “She just wants to go out and have fun.”
And after winning her second gold medal, Ledecka said she was hopeful her example would serve as an inspiration for younger athletes wanting to compete at an elite level in more than one area.
“It’s not easy to do two sports,” she said Saturday. “The only thing I think they should do is to follow their heart. If they want to do just one sport, then do just one sport. If they want to do more, do more and try the best.”
American Alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn, who said she had tried other sports when she was younger but was always better at ski racing, said the younger generation strives to do more, to have more experiences, and she has noticed doing more than one sport is of a growing importance.
“So maybe Ester can give them hope that competing and being successful in more than one sport is possible,” Vonn said. “I definitely think she’ll have a long-lasting impact.”
Trapp called Ledecka the hardest-working athlete he has ever met. Regardless of conditions —
“There’s not one run that’s like, ‘I’ll take this one at 50 percent,’ ” he said Saturday after failing to move on from qualifications in the men’s competition. “Every run is, we’re going full gas and that’s it.” And she always wants to race against the men in training, something the men are not always keen on doing. “She never wants to race the girls, and all the guys are like, ‘Ester, I don’t know if I can do this,’ ” Trapp said with a laugh.
Ledecka uses her skills from each sport to help build her in the other. Skiing has helped her embrace speed
“There is no limit where I am afraid of speed,” she said.
Snowboarding has helped with edge control.
“So there’s a lot of security and stability which I have from snowboarding,” she said.
But going back and forth between both is not easy. She said she did not feel good with her snowboarding here until the day before competition.
“I found the snowboarder in me, luckily,” she said. , “and in the end, it was the smallest pressure on me since one week, and I was just riding and doing my best and doing my job.”
Indeed, Ledecka has asserted herself as a force in her second Olympics, prompting the question of whether she is the best athlete among the thousands who have competed here in South Korea.
“There are the greatest athletes in the world here,” she said in the interview area by the slope.
Even though you are the only one with a gold medal in two different sports?
“Yeah, whatever,” she said with a laugh.
A few minutes later, during her news conference, she warmed up to the idea, if only slightly.
“I don’t feel like that,” she said, “but it sounds good.”Rachel G. Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @RachelGBowers.