Ester Ledecka keeps turning heads with multi-sport success
Czech skier-snowboarder leads downhill training 2 days after snowboarding win
The skier-snowboarder who stunned just about everyone by winning the Olympic super-G in addition to parallel giant slalom snowboard gold in February is finding her groove again.
Ester Ledecka led the second training session for a World Cup downhill by a comfortable margin Monday — two days after winning a parallel giant slalom snowboarding event.
"My first turns on skis were this morning — after two weeks — because I was just snowboarding," Ledecka told The Associated Press.
Actually, it has been nine days since Ledecka competed on skis, finishing 29th in a super-G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 8. But considering all that she's done since then, it's no wonder that it feels like two weeks.
Ledecka finished second in a snowboard race in Carezza, Italy, on Thursday and then won a night race in nearby Cortina d'Ampezzo on Saturday — meaning she was on skis in Val Gardena about 36 hours after her latest boarding victory.
"It was kind of crazy to come here, because it's a new hill for everyone," said Ledecka, who was 14th in the opening training session. "So I was a little insecure in the morning with my ski turns but I'm happy that I was able to feel good on my skis and have some good runs."
Ledecka finished 0.40 seconds ahead of Selva native Nicol Delago and 0.43 ahead of Nicole Schmidhofer, the Austrian who won this season's opening two downhills.
"So far so good. But it's still just a training," Ledecka said. "All the girls are practicing and looking for the good lines."
The Czech Bo Jackson?
At the Pyeongchang Olympics, Ledecka followed her super-G victory in Alpine skiing by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at the same Winter Games using two different types of equipment.
In the Olympic super-G, Ledecka beat Anna Veith by 0.01 seconds — after U.S. broadcaster NBC had already declared Veith the gold medallist and switched its viewers to figure skating.
Watch Ledecka's reaction to winning super-G gold at the Olympics:
While the 23-year-old Czech athlete still lacks experience in skiing, this week's races in Val Gardena on a slope that the women have not raced on before evens the playing field for her.
"This is an advantage for me," she acknowledged. "We'll see how I can play with it."
Ledecka's chances are also boosted by the fact that downhill standouts Lindsey Vonn and Sofia Goggia are currently out injured and overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is sitting out to rest.
"There's a long way in front of me in skiing still," Ledecka said. "I hope I'll improve myself a little bit this year."
'Surprise' Barbie dolls
Ledecka's Olympic success has made her one of the most popular athletes in the Czech Republic — rivaling even the country's hockey stars. Barbie recently introduced a Ledecka doll in its "Role Models" series — replete with miniature equipment for both snowboarding and skiing .
"The Barbie doll was a nice surprise and I hope they will make some more, because I [got] a lot of messages from my fans that they want to buy it," Ledecka said. "On one side [the increased attention] is good, on the other side you kind of a little bit lost the privacy but I learned to work with it and I'm OK."
Ledecka broke a bone in her left hand during snowboard training at Copper Mountain in Colorado last month and was left with a big scar on the top of her hand from surgery.
"I was snowboarding and I put my hand on the ground and I hit the gate. I had to stop for one week," Ledecka said. "The good thing for me was that when I came back I was snowboarding, so I didn't have to hold the pole."
Ledecka plans to keep switching back and forth between skiing and snowboarding this season but she could run into a dilemma with the parallel GS at the world snowboard championships scheduled for Utah on Feb. 4 — the same day that the Alpine skiing worlds open in Are, Sweden.
Ledecka is the defending world champion in snowboarding.
"Last year we were lucky, with the weather and everything so the whole plan fit," said Tomas Bank, Ledecka's coach. "This year I recognize it is not that easy."