It's no surprise when the world champion takes home an Olympic gold medal, but it's a bit unusual when they do it in a whole different sport. Olympic skier Ester Ledecka won the gold in the women's Super-G despite mainly being a snowboarder and competing on borrowed skis. The Czech Olympic Team is even calling her surprise gold the "Miracle on Snow."
No one thought she would win — not even Ledecka herself. She was the 26th skier down the mountain in PyeongChang, and in the women's Super-G the winner is almost always among the first. That led to NBC miscalling the race and naming Austrian Anna Veith the winner when 19 of the skiers had made it down. The 22-year-old Ledecka ended up beating Veith, 28, by just 0.01 seconds with a time of 1:21.11.
When Ledecka looked up at the scoreboard, she initially thought her winning time had to be a mistake. "I really don’t know what happened,” Ledecka said, going on to explain her first thoughts. “This must be some mistake, they’re going to switch the time for some others. I just saw my mum, we were watching each other, we didn’t understand.”
Ledecka explained what might have made the difference between her and the other athletes. “I was probably the only snowboarder on site," Ledecka said. "All the other girls didn’t risk a lot. There must be a lot of pressure on them. I was just trying to do my best run.”
Also shocked was the silver medalist, Veith. "My first reaction was, is this possible?” Veith said after the results were updated. “Then [came] Ester. Because she does snowboarding, we didn’t know how strong she is. She deserves it, I want to congratulate her.”
Ledecka is in fact a world champion snowboarder, and while she is competing in both sports at the games — a first — skiing is thought to be her second sport. She did start skiing at the age of two, though, and didn't take up snowboarding until the age of five. Perhaps those extra three years made the difference.
The most shocking aspect of Ledecka's win is that she did it on borrowed skis. Ledecka borrowed American Mikaela Shiffrin's for the race. Shiffrin, shortly after Ledecka won, tweeted out, "Ester Ledecka," and a lot of clapping emojis.
Ledecka's coach is an American, Justin Reiter, who competed for the United States in snowboarding in Sochi. He wasn't shocked, but hadn't expected the win. "Every time she pulls out of the start gate, she has a fire behind her and inside her," Reiter said. "But I didn’t know that this would be her first skiing podium. I knew it was possible, but I didn’t expect it.”
The "Miracle on Snow" moniker is a play on the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 when the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the favorite, Russia, for the gold. The win turned the Olympians into stars. The win was even featured in a made-for-TV movie.
Ledecka could be the source of more miracles for the Czech team. She has several more events to compete in at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Everything from snowboarding's women's parallel giant slalom to skiing's downhill and Alpine combined.
That hardly gives Ledecka time to bask in her status as a gold medal-winning skier. “I’m really looking forward to the snowboard and I think I should already switch on ‘snowboard girl’ now,” Ledecka said. “It would be very nice [to win both] and I will, for sure, do my best for it.”
In addition to basking in her skiing win, Ledecka can feel vindicated for all the times she has been told to choose just one sport. Sticking with both has paid off in the best way possible: with a gold medal.