It was one week ago that a snowboarder from the Czech Republic stunned announcers, competitors and even herself by winning a gold medal in the women’s super-G – an Alpine skiing event.
The race had already been called, and a photo had been taken with the three presumed Olympic medalists. Then Ester Ledecka, the 26th athlete in the start order, came down the course.
When Ledecka got the bottom, the results showed that she was in the lead by 0.01 seconds. But it wasn’t a mistake. It was one of the greatest moments in Winter Olympic history.
Ledecka was so caught off-guard that she wore her googles to her press conference afterward because, in her words, “I was not prepared to be at this ceremony, and I don’t have any makeup.”
Part of the reason it was so shocking was because skiing isn’t Ledecka’s primary sport. She’s had a much more successful career, up to this point at least, as an Alpine snowboarder. She was ranked 43rd in the world in super-G skiing at the time of her upset, but she’s currently ranked No. 1 in parallel giant slalom snowboarding.
Ledecka has won Alpine snowboarding’s overall World Cup title each of the past two seasons and is on pace to win it for a third straight year. She’s also the reigning world champion in parallel giant slalom, the lone Alpine snowboarding discipline that will be contested at the PyeongChang Olympics.
That’s why Ledecka opted to pass on Alpine skiing’s downhill event – a discipline she’s even better at than the super-G – in favor of preparing for parallel giant slalom, which will take place Saturday in PyeongChang (Friday night in the U.S.).
Once she takes her first qualifying run, Ledecka will become the first athlete to compete in both Alpine skiing and snowboarding at the same Olympics, thereby fulfilling her original goal. But now she’ll have the chance to make even greater history by winning gold medals in both sports.
While Ledecka is the favorite, there are other women who could mount a challenge for gold.
Switzerland’s Patrizia Kummer, Japan’s Tomoka Takeuchi and Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina – the parallel giant slalom gold, silver and bronze medalists from the last Olympics – are all in the field.
There’s also Austria’s Julia Dujmovits, who won a gold medal in 2014 in a different Alpine snowboarding event that’s no longer on the program.
And there’s two German woman – Ramona Hofmeister and Selina Joerg – who are ranked in the top three of the World Cup standings along with Ledecka.
Competition starts at 7 p.m. ET with the qualifying round, where the field will be narrowed down from 32 riders to 16. Action will continue with the elimination rounds at 11:30 p.m. ET, where the remaining racers will compete head-to-head in a bracket format through multiple rounds of competition.
The men’s event will be held at the same time. Notable names in the field include two-time gold medalist Vic Wild (representing the Olympic Athletes from Russia), current World Cup leader Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland and reigning world champion Andreas Prommegger of Austria.
The field will also include 2010 gold medalist Jasey-Jay Anderson of Canada. The 42-year-old has competed at every single Olympics since snowboarding debuted in 1998.
Two Americans will be competing in parallel giant slalom, both in the men’s competition: 29-year-old Michael Trapp and 23-year-old AJ Muss. Four years ago, Muss suffered complications from a shoulder surgery and was clinically dead for about 30 seconds, then spent two weeks in a coma. After recovering from that, he moved to Austria in the winters to train and has steadily improved in recent seasons. Muss has several top-ten finishes already this season and could have an outside shot at a medal in PyeongChang.
All rounds of competition will stream live on NBCOlympics.com.