CZECH snowboarder Ester Ledecka sprang one of the biggest shocks in Winter Games history when she won the super-G on Saturday after borrowing a rival’s skis for the event.
Weather postponements led American star Mikaela Shiffrin to skip the Super-G competition, and she then lent her skis to Ledecka, a world champion snowboarder who’s only been competing in the super-G for two years, and in which she’d never finished better than 29th.
But, incredibly, Ledecka clocked 1min 21.11 sec down the polished 2km-long Jeongseon course to edge defending champion Anna Veith of Austria by one-hundredth of a second. Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather took bronze.
Not only did Ledecka deprive Veith of what looked like a rare double, she pushed Lindsey Vonn back into sixth spot, the American star paying the price for a massive error that saw her lose valuable time at the bottom of the course.
“It’s definitely shocking,” Vonn said of Ledecka’s win. “She beat me in training in Lake Louise — that was also surprising.
“I feel like in the Olympics a lot of things can happen, it’s not that she didn’t deserve it, but there’s a lot of pressure on the favourites.”
A shell-shocked 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.
“I am so surprised about all of it. I’m really trying to win and do a good run every time, but I didn’t really realise that this really can happen.”
After newly-crowned giant slalom gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin’s disappointing fourth place in Friday’s slalom, all eyes were on Vonn for a US medal comeback as she opened her PyeongChang campaign in brilliant sunshine.
On a technically testing super-G on hard-packed, artificial snow, an almost capacity crowd of 4,000 roared as the American was shown getting ready to move into the start gate.
Dressed in a figure-hugging white catsuit with red and blue stripes, and blonde hair tied tight back into a ponytail tucked into a white helmet, the American shot out and skied the top two-thirds of the course well, reaching speeds of 100 kmh and flying more than 30 metres off the jumps.
Pushing herself to the max, she overcooked it coming into the bottom third, however, and just four gates from the finish went wide on a turn.
Be-gloved left hand desperately driven into the snow to regain her line, she managed to correct herself and scrape inside the next gate.
— Bad mistake —
As the 33-year-old, who had warned she was coming into the Games on a “hot streak” in a bid to repeat her Vancouver downhill gold, came across the line, she knew that that mistake had cost her dearly.
Shaking her head, hands to her face, she edged over to her coach, who consoled the weeping racer, one of the most recognisable faces at the Olympics.
Vonn will now regroup for Wednesday’s downhill, with the first of three training runs scheduled for Sunday, and the alpine combined 48 hours later.
Veith, who shot to fame using her maiden name Fenninger, started in bib number 15 and produced a near-flawless descent.
She seemed to avoid the gusts that affected Italian Sofia Goggia and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, who raced just before her and saw their intermediate times greatly fluctuate because of the wind.
As the Austrian camp celebrated, there was bad news to come in the form of rank outsider Ledecka.
Starting with bib 26, the 22-year-old Czech shot through the finish line just 0.01 sec ahead of Veith.
The two-time world snowboard gold medallist, whose best World Cup alpine performance was seventh in the Lake Louise downhill in December having made her circuit debut in 2016, was left stunned at the bottom.
“I thought there must be some mistake, I thought they’d switch the times for someone else’s!” she said.
Unmoving, mouth agape, it finally dawned on her that she was atop the timings, a punch in the air confirming she had gone one better than her grandfather Jan Klapac, who won bronze at the 1964 Innsbruck Games and silver four years later in Grenoble for the then-Czechoslovakia ice hockey team.