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Rediff.com  » Sports » Winter Olympics: Czech shredder Ledecka stuns Alpine world with gold

Winter Olympics: Czech shredder Ledecka stuns Alpine world with gold

Last updated on: February 17, 2018 23:34 IST

Super-G alpine skiers Anna Veith of Austria, Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic, and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein react during the victory ceremony at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre in Pyeongchang on Saturday

IMAGE: Super-G alpine skiers Anna Veith of Austria, Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic, and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein react during the victory ceremony at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre in Pyeongchang on Saturday. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Czech Ester Ledecka produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Winter Olympics when she tore down Jeongseon slope in bib number 26 to stun the pre-race favourites and win the women's super-G on Saturday.

The 22-year-old was ranked 43rd in the World Cup standings in Super-G and was thought to have a better chance of gold in the snowboarding events she will also contest in Pyeongchang, an unprecedented doubling up.

 

Bib 26 was the starting position for a racer with only the slimmest chance of getting near the podium and the top contenders clearly thought the medals had been decided by skiers in the top 20 spots.

When Ledecka started her run, Austrian Anna Veith was at the bottom of the slope taking phone calls and preparing to celebrate becoming first woman to win back-to-back titles in the Olympic super-G.

The Czech's run appeared at par with her starting position until halfway down the course but she carved up the bottom of the run to clock one minute 21.11 seconds.

Ledecka could barely believe it herself when the green light indicated she had bumped Veith out of the gold medal position by one hundredth of a second to give her country its first Alpine skiing gold medal.

"I was wondering what just happened. Is this a kind of mistake?," she said.

"I was thinking okay they're going to change the time, I'm going to wait for a little bit and they're going to switch and put some seconds on.

"I was just staring at the board and nothing was happening and everybody was screaming. I just started to think okay, this is weird."

Veith's time of 1.21.12 was only enough for silver, while Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather claimed bronze in 1:21.22 after she had earlier edged Swiss Lara Gut off the top of the timesheets by the slenderest of margins in a thrilling race.

"I thought I had gold," Veith said.

"For me it was a big surprise that she could do this. At first I thought 'is this a mistake? But I want to congratulate her because she did a really good run."

Despite a delay of an hour because of high winds, the race got underway under bright blue skies with a big crowd packed into the stands at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.

American Lindsey Vonn went out first but made a mistake before the final jump and skied into soft snow for a time that was only good enough for sixth.

The 33-year-old will have another chance to become the oldest female medallist in Olympic Alpine skiing in her favoured downhill on the same mountain next week.

While Vonn is the second most decorated woman on the Alpine World Cup circuit with 81 victories, Ledecka has never even graced the podium on the circuit while she split her time with her snowboarding career.

World champion in the parallel giant slalom snowboarding and silver medallist at the last world championships in the parallel slalom, she could yet enjoy unprecedented medal success in the two separate snow sports.

"I was probably the only snowboarder on site," Ledecka said when asked how she had managed to go so fast.

"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."

Yarnold retains skeleton gold, Deas adds British bronze

Lizzy Yarnold became the first Briton to successfully defend a Winter Olympic title when she claimed the skeleton gold on Saturday as Laura Deas took bronze to complete the country's greatest day in the Winter Games.

Austria's Janine Flock had seemed set to spoil the party when her impressive third run sent her into the final round in the lead. Yarnold, however, piled on the pressure with a course-record final run and Flock then made a series of mistakes that relegated her from first to fourth.

Germany's Jacqueline Loelling took the silver.

British women have won medals at every skeleton event since the sport was reintroduced to the Games in 2002 and their two on Saturday, along with a bronze for Izzy Atkin earlier in the freestyle skiing slopestyle, meant it is the first time the country has won three Winter Olympic medals in a day - beating their best of two in 1924.

An ecstatic and largely British crowd at the finish line whooped and cheered as an overjoyed Yarnold whipped off her helmet and screamed.

"I love big occasions like this. I love the tension of it all, and the release of tension at the end," Yarnold told Reuters.

"I just could not stop screaming".

Yarnold finished 0.45 seconds ahead of Loelling, who had led after the first two runs, as her blistering track record of 51.46 seconds made the difference.

 “It means so much to me," said Yarnold, who lost her love for the sport following her Sochi success.

"At times over the last four years it’s been so hard and I’ve doubted myself and wondered whether I could get back to where I wanted to be but the team never lost faith and that’s why I’m back here today on the podium," she said.

"Honestly after the last few years the aim was to get here to the Olympics, I wasn’t thinking about the medals - but to achieve that is the stuff of dreams, as is sharing the podium with Laura who’s been amazing.”

Skeleton races begin with an explosive sprint, with athletes then diving head-first onto a sled which accelerates down the ice at speeds of over 100kph.

A minus 14 degrees Celsius wind chill threatened to keep crowds away, but the event has been a popular spectator sport in Pyeongchang following the success of host country South Korea's Yun Sung-bin, who took the men's gold on Thursday.

At the finish line, many were entertained by Nigeria's Simidele Adeagbo, competing as part of her nation's first Winter Games delegation, who danced cheerfully despite consistently coming last.

Although the 36-year-old clocked some of the fastest start times across the four heats, she struggled with the track at Pyeongchang, regularly crashing into walls as she exited curves.

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