PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The packed stands at the Jeongseon Alpine Center were already celebrating, convinced Anna Veith had defended her Olympic women’s super-G title, when Ester Ledecka entered the starting gate and made history of her own on Saturday.
Under clear blue skies, Czech Ledecka, running 26th, completed a flawless run to deliver one of the biggest upsets in Winter Olympics, stunning fans, her rivals, and even broadcasters who had already crowned Veith the winner.
“We were all at the top watching and we all went silent,” veteran ski racer Sarah Schleper of Mexico, running 39th, told Reuters after the race. “Her reaction in the finish was so cool. I think she thought, ‘wait, they messed up my time’.”
It was no less shocking for the 22-year-old Ledecka, an accomplished snowboarder who said she had dreamed of winning a gold in Alpine one day but never thought it would come so soon for a skier who made her World Cup debut in 2016.
“I saw just my mum. We didn’t really understand what happened. I was asking her if it looked good and if I didn’t miss any gates,” she said.
“I think they’re as surprised as me.”
Ledecka is well known in the snowboarding world, having made a name for herself when she became the first Czech to win the parallel giant slalom competition at the FIS Snowboard World Cup in the 2015-2016 season.
For the past two seasons she has finished at the top of the World Cup rankings for parallel overall, but few expected her snowboarding success to translate to the dramatically different sport of Alpine skiing.
“The big stars were probably a little bit put off because they don’t expect people to come from behind,” the 38-year-old Schleper said.
“But that’s the speed disciplines - it’s anybody’s game all the way to the end because the course stays in such good shape.”
One of those big stars, American Lindsey Vonn, was anything but put off by the results, marveling at Ledecka’s wide-ranging skill set.
The 33-year-old simply shook her head when asked about the dramatic upset.
“It’s definitely shocking,” said Vonn, who finished sixth. “I wish I had as much athleticism as she has that I could just hop from sport to sport and just win everything.
“But unfortunately I’m only good at ski racing... and she still beat me.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Sudipto Ganguly