Lindsey Vonn’s mistake opens door for snowboarder Ester Ledecka’s stunning win
JEONGSEON, South Korea — Thirty-nine gates — one minute, 15 seconds — into Saturday, Feb 17’s super-G, the storyline was proceeding exactly as expected.
That story ended with one turn.
Twenty-five racers later, after the reporters had put away their notebooks, the story was re-written — by a snowboarder.
Anything can happen at the Olympics.
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The expected storyline was years in the making.
For eight years, Lindsey Vonn has dreamed of returning to her sport’s biggest stage. She was crushed four years ago when a knee injury prevented her from competing in Sochi, Russia.
Her World Cup season was treated as a warm-up, carefully calibrated for Olympic glory in Pyeongchang. She came into Pyeongchang on a roll, winning her last two races.
She seemingly considered every detail of preparation for this event, down to wearing gloves at her press conference to ward off germs.
The loss of her grandfather added an extra element of emotion, provoking tears as she said last week, “I’m going to win for him.”
She was prepared, healthy, and felt great.
For 39 gates, it seemed like she would do it. Skiing aggressively, she attacked the course at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre on a cold, sunny day with perfect snow. She skied the middle section of the course the fastest of any competitor.
She seemed completely in control, with a medal within her grasp.
“I was like, ‘Yes, I got this, I got this,’” Vonn said.
And then …
One missed turn.
Eight years of waiting, and the dream was derailed in an instant. She lost an edge and veered way, way off course. She recovered, but the damage was done.
“Everything lined up except for one turn,” she said.
Even Vonn, talking a few minutes later, was at a loss as to what happened.
“I knew exactly what I had to do,” she said. “I misjudged how I came in there and … I don’t know. I guess I have to watch the video.”
Twenty-five racers after Vonn, the story was rewritten.
And then … part II
Ester Ledecka, the two-sport athlete from the Czech Republic who also competes in parallel giant slalom snowboarding, stared at the scoreboard after finishing the race.
It said first place. By 0.01 seconds.
She was certain her winning time was a mistake.
“I thought, ‘OK, are you going to put there a couple more seconds?” she said. “I was just waiting and watching and waiting till they would change the time, and nothing was happening.”
She has just one top 10 in the World Cup. Her best World Cup finish in super-G is 19th.
Her snowboarding coach, former parallel giant slalom athlete Justin Reiter of Steamboat Springs, seemed taken aback.
“I knew it’s possible, but I didn’t expect it,” he said.
Ledecka has trained in Steamboat Springs and is an alumna of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
It’s the Olympics, and anything can happen. That line was repeated by Vonn and silver medalist Anna Veith.
Ledecka still seemed as shocked as anyone at the winner’s press conference. She declined to remove her goggles.
“I was not prepared as the other girls that I would be at the ceremony. I don’t have no makeup,” she said.
What just happened?
Veith thought she had gold. ESPN has already posted a story that Veith had won.
“The first reaction was, ‘Is this possible?’ and then, ‘Yes, it is,’” Veith said.
Even with the disappointment, Vonn wasn’t heart-broken. She will look ahead to Wednesday’s downhill, where she’ll have an even better shot at a medal.
But despite all the expectations, the training, and the meticulous preparation focused on this day, Vonn truly found that anything can happen at the Olympics. The story is anyone’s for the taking.
“The fact that she was able to beat all of us and be a snowboarder is pretty darn impressive,” Vonn said. “So, you know, at the Olympics a lot of weird stuff happens. But my hat’s off to her.”
As for Ledecka, having won the gold in alpine skiing, she just wanted to go snowboarding. The win had cut into her training time on the hill. She’ll go for another gold, on her snowboard, on Feb. 24.
“I don’t want to be rude — you are all great,” she told reporters. “But, really, I didn’t expect that I would be sitting here. I already should have three runs on my snowboard now.”
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.