Duel-sport phenom Ester Ledecka was one of the breakout stars of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
While the Czech athlete entered PyeongChang, South Korea, as the gold medal favorite in snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom competition, she shocked the world – and herself – when she won gold in alpine skiing’s super-G event.
When Ledecka followed up with snowboarding gold eight days later, the Prague native – who enjoys playing beach volleyball and wind surfing in her free time – became the first woman to win Winter Olympic gold medals in two different sports at a single Games.
Ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Ledecka remains a top contender in both alpine skiing and snowboarding.
When she isn’t skiing, Ester Ledecka is the most dominant snowboarder in the world
Even while splitting her time between two sports, Ledecka remains the most dominant snowboard racer in the world. Since the PyeongChang Games, the two-time Olympic gold medalist has entered 14 snowboarding World Cup competitions, finishing on the podium 13 times.
While her fellow alpine skiers are currently in Val d’Isere, France, for this weekend’s downhill and super-G (a race in which Ledecka is the defending champion), the 26-year-old Ledecka instead travelled to Carezza, Italy, to compete in her first snowboarding World Cup in over a year.
“I really want to do it all but unfortunately the FIS calendar does not see that someone could do both,” Ledecka told Reuters earlier this month.
After posting the top time in qualification on Wednesday, Ledecka won her first three head-to-head races in the bracket-style parallel giant slalom competition. In the final against Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing, Ledecka fell on the seventh turn and went on to finish second. (Video of the final between Ledecka and Ulbing is embedded above.)
While Ledecka’s alpine skiing success in PyeongChang was a shock, don’t be surprised if she repeats the feat in Beijing
As for her progress as an alpine skier, Ledecka has only continued to improve since 2018. She finished 10th in the overall World Cup standings in both 2020 and 2021, aided by a combined five podium finishes.
In alpine skiing, races are organized so that the most successful athletes compete in the top-20, which is one of the reasons Ledecka’s 2018 Olympic result – achieved while wearing bib #26 – was such a surprise.
But thanks to Ledecka’s continued success in alpine skiing, she certainly won’t be competing with such a high bib number in Beijing.
Ledecka also believes she has an advantage heading into the upcoming Winter Olympics. In alpine skiing’s speed events – Ledecka’s specialty – it is rare for less-established skiers to have success on slopes that veteran athletes have competed on year-after-year.
But with the test events in Yanqing, China, cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, no elite skiers have raced on the Olympic slopes.
“Usually all the other girls have much more experience on the downhill than I do and now they are on the same level like me so I will try to use it to my advantage,” Ledecka told Reuters.
The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this story.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC