Pyeongchang is full of surprises: Snowboarder becomes Olympic alpine skiing champ

22-year-old Ester Ledecka latest athlete to earn shocking win in South Korea

By Amy Cleveland, CBC Sports

Not many snowboarders can slap on a pair of borrowed skis and go on to win a super-G Olympic gold medal, but that's exactly what Ester Ledecka did on Saturday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, becoming the latest Olympic underdog to notch a surprising victory.

Although the 22-year-old from the Czech Republic dabbles in both winter sports, she always believed that she was a stronger snowboarder — winning a world championship in both parallel slalom (2015) and parallel giant slalom (2017). But after racing to the first major upset of the 2018 Olympics, Ledecka may have to rethink her stance. 

The field was stacked with some of alpine skiing's strongest athletes — including defending champ Anna Veith of Austria, American star Lindsey Vonn and Swiss skier Lara Gut. Ledecka blew them all away with a consistent run down the hill to post a winning time of one minute, 21.11 seconds.

Ledecka was as shocked as everyone else, asking "how did that happen?" after she saw her time. Even NBC had anointed Veith the champion and concluded their coverage of the event early, as it is rare for someone racing that late to win.

Perhaps, she had an advantage going in to competition with no pressure. 

"I was probably the only snowboarder on site. All the other girls didn't risk a lot," Ledecka told reporters. "There must be a lot of pressure on them. I was just trying to do my best run."

Ledecka is trying to convince her coaches to allow her to compete in the downhill on Wednesday, before she returns to snowboarding for Thursday's qualifying in the parallel giant slalom.

Favourites not always a lock

So far there haven't been any upsets in Pyeongchang that come close, but two men's hockey underdogs grabbed headlines on Wednesday after rising to the occasion in their opening games. 

Slovenia, decided podium longshots, downed the Americans 2-1 in overtime, while the Russian gold-medal favourites squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss to Slovakia. 

On the luge track, Germany's Felix Loch was expected to a be lock for men's gold, but made an error in his final run to drop from first to fifth and hand Austria's David Gleirscher the top prize. The expectations were low for Gleirscher, as he had never reached a World Cup podium.

While 17-year-old American Red Gerard wasn't exactly a gamble in the men's snowboard slopestyle, he confessed that he was simply happy to put down a good run at the Olympics after coming up short on his first two runs. He did just that — going on to win with a final-run score of 87.16.

At the midway point of the Games, with eight days of competition remaining, there's still plenty of time for Olympic upsets in Pyeongchang.