February 24, 2018, five years ago today: Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic becomes the first woman ever to win gold medals in two different sports at the Winter Olympics, much less at the same Winter Games. On this day, she took gold in her specialty, parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Ledecka had stepped into Alpine skis the previous week and had won the super-G on the final run of the day. The 22-year-old Ledecka had been ranked No. 43 in the world in that event going into the Pyeongchang Games.
Versatility has marked Ledecka’s life from the beginning. She was born in Prague and took up ice hockey as soon as she could skate (her grandfather, Jan Klapac, was a two-time Olympic medalist for Czechoslovakia). At the ripe old age of four, Ledecka got on skis, and she added snowboarding at age five. Before long she was competing in freestyle snowboarding and boarder events. Ledecka was on the World Cup snowboarding circuit by the time she was 17. She never abandoned her skis, though.
Ledecka made her Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, reaching the quarterfinals in snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom. Her schedule became ultra-packed in 2016 when she added Alpine World Cup competition. Ledecka scored points in four of her first five races, competing in the downhill and super-G. And in 2017, Ledecka became the first athlete to compete in the World Championships in both sports.
Then came Pyeongchang in 2018, when she qualified to represent the Czech Republic in both sports. Ledecka was a medal favorite in the parallel GS in snowboarding. She was decidedly not in Alpine skiing. Defending gold medalist Anna Veith had already put together a formidable time in the super-G, and NBC had already named her the winner. Then Ledecka blistered her final run and beat Veith by 0.01 seconds. Cameras caught the look of utter shock on Ledecka’s face. She had shocked the world, and she had done it on skis borrowed from Mikaela Schiffrin. Ledecka was chosen as her country’s flag-bearer during the Closing Ceremonies.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)