Ester Ledecka | Snowboarder Stuns the World by Winning Skiing Super-G Gold

The Czech rider put down the fastest time of the day on a pair of borrowed skis…

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Ester Ledecka reacts with disbelief after getting her result through…

When snowboarder Ester Ledecka got to the bottom of the skiing Super G course at Pyeongchang, she thought the timekeepers had cocked up. “I thought this must be some mistake, that they’re going to switch the time for some others,” she said. But what she was reading was no error. The Czech snowboarder had just won the gold medal in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic skiing history.

Her victory was deemed so unlikely that US broadcaster NBC had already called the race for Austrian Anna Veith, a call they had to row back on embarrassingly. In their defence, it was the longest of long shots. Ledecka came into the race having never finished in the top 20 of a World Cup on skis before. She didn’t even own the pair of skis she competed on – she’d borrowed them off American alpine star Mikaela Shiffrin.

“Among the skiers she’d defeated was none other than Lindsey Vonn, who finished off down in sixth place.”

But regardless of the circumstances, this was an incredible feat of skill. Among the skiers she’d defeated was none other than Lindsey Vonn, who finished off down in sixth place. So how did a snowboarder end of claiming the top spot in one of the most prestigious ski disciplines?

Ledecka has apparently always been adept on both skis and a board, but she only started competing on the World Cup circuit on skis in 2016.

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Ester Ledecka on top of the skiing Super G podium. Photo: Czech Team Twitter

Before that she’d focussed the bulk of her time and effort on Parallel Giant Slalom (PGS) – snowboarding’s racing discipline. It’s an event she’s been very successful at, winning multiple World Cup golds and two World Championships in 2015 and 2017.

On paper there are similarities between the two sports – both involve sliding down snowy hills at high speed. But that’s about where the similarity ends. As the BBC’s Ed Leigh put it: “It’s like badminton and tennis. While the theory is the same, the strategy and technique are polar opposites.”

“It’s like badminton and tennis. While the theory is the same, the strategy and technique are polar opposites.”

Ledecka finished seventh at the Sochi Olympics in PGS, but having taken up ski racing, came into these games determined to race on both one plank and two – becoming the first person ever to do so.

She’ll certainly be in contention when the ladies PGS kicks off on Thursday, but no-one – least of all Ledecka herself – expected her to be stood on the top of a podium before then. The look on her face as she saw that time will no doubt be one of the most enduring, and endearing, images of these games.

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Catch Up | What You Missed from the Men’s Boardercross Final

A selection of the best action from the men’s boardercross event at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games 2018

Regino Hernandez of Spain leads the pack in the mens boardercross semi-finals - Photo: Sam Mellish

Regino Hernandez of Spain leads the pack in the mens boardercross semi-finals – Photo: Sam Mellish

Keeping up with all the action from the Olympics can be tricky, especially with so much going on at one time and, for us the UK, also in the middle of the night. That’s why we’ve got photographer Sam Mellish snaping every bit of action for us during the Olympic period.

Sam’s done a herculean job of photographing the men’s bordercross which, as expected, was as gloriously chaotic and controversial as ever. France’s Pierre Vaultier was back to defend his Gold from Sochi 2014, but there was a packed field, looking to take him down. Literally.

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Photo Gallery | The Best Shots from the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe

A selection of the best photos from the men’s snowboard halfpipe event at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games 2018

Japanese rider Raibu Katayama sends it high above the Halfpipe in qualifications - Photo: Sam Mellish

Japanese rider Raibu Katayama sends it high above the Halfpipe in qualifications – Photo: Sam Mellish

While all about the Olympics is a chance to get expert insight into the action on the snow, we have to admit they’re still very much a visual event. Which is why we’ve got photographer Sam Mellish shooting every bit of action for us during the Olympic period.

For the past few days Sam’s battled freezing temperatures and, no doubt equally cold toes to  photograph the men’s snowboard Halfpipe. Neither the Halfpipe finals or qualifiers features any British interest, but with the notable exception of 2014 gold medalist Iouri ‘iPod’ Podladtchikov, they did feature the very best halfpipe riders in the world, putting everything on the line to bag the Olympic gold medal.

In the end, Shaun White had to put down the best halfpipe run he’s ever done to claim gold from second place Ayumu Hirano, who’s also saved his best ever run for the finals, as did bronze medalist Scotty James.

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Shaun White Wants to Compete in Skateboarding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Could the man who’s just won on snow do it in summer as well?

Mens Snowboard Halfpipe Finals Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 © Sam Mellish

Shaun White, USA, celebrates winning the mens Snowboard Halfpipe competition during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 14th February 2018 in South Korea © Sam Mellish

Shaun White is aiming to compete in skateboarding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, he said today. Standing at the bottom of the snowboard halfpipe in Pyeongchang, where he’s just won an incredible third gold medal, the American rider told Mpora: “Honestly I am [thinking of Tokyo], to go skateboarding in the summer.

“Just to get to the summer Olympics would be amazing, and it’s a big passion of mine.” Shaun has previously competed in skateboard vert, winning his first X Games medal in 2005 and taking home the gold in 2007 and 2011. Skateboarding will be introduced as an Olympic discipline for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 games.

“To get to the summer Olympics would be amazing, and it’s a big passion of mine.”

Shaun hasn’t been skating, at least not at the highest level, for a few years, and his favoured discipline of vert isn’t scheduled to be part of the program. But we have no doubt that if he sets his mind to it he’ll be able to adapt his skills to park or street skating (the two contest formats mooted for inclusion) before the US Team selection takes place.

Shaun White, the ultimate competitor, en route to winning his third Olympic gold medal. Would you bet against him doing it in the summer? Photo: Sam Mellish

Shaun White, the ultimate competitor, en route to winning his third Olympic gold medal. Would you bet against him doing it in the summer? Photo: Sam Mellish

He told us he’s intending to get back on four wheels and start training almost as soon as he gets back to the States. “I think I’ll start skateboarding when I get home.

“Well, probably I’ll go to a beach somewhere [first] but then I’ll probably start skateboarding a little, enter a few competitions, get the blood going, see how it feels and then decide.”

If there’s one thing that today’s snowboarding result tells you about Shaun White it’s that he’s a consummate competitor, who’s always willing to go the extra mile for the big competitions. Making it to the halfpipe in Pyeongchang required recovering from a seriously nasty crash in after which he “couldn’t recognise himself in the mirror”, and throwing down a trick combination he’d never previously landed.

And unlike other skateboarders, Shaun White won’t be afraid to hire coaches, or get in the gym to fulfil his summer Olympic dream either. He doesn’t care whether it’s “cool” or not. “When I was younger it was really uncool to want to win, to train, to be upset when you lost,” he told Mpora. “Everybody was like: ‘I’m just stoked to ride’ and I’m like ‘no you’re not, it’s a contest, you want to win.”

How the skateboarding world will react to the news is unclear. But given what we’ve seen of Shaun Roger White over the past few days, we wouldn’t bet against him bringing home yet another gold medal.

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Shaun White Wins | Men’s 2018 Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe Report

The full report from “the best halfpipe contest ever”

Shaun White, USA, celebrates winning the mens Snowboard Halfpipe competition during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 14th February 2018 in South Korea © Sam Mellish

Words by Sam McMahon | Images by Sam Mellish

If you’d tuned into the men’s qualifiers last night, you would have been forgiven for thinking you’d jumped a day and were already watching the medal being decided. Out of all the snowboard events so far at PyeongChang 2018, this is the one where most of the field had turned up and were able to put down their best.

Ayumu Hirano, Scotty James and Shaun White looked in a class of their own yesterday and it looked highly unlikely that anyone else would bother the podium, though Ben Ferguson’s departure from the norm – getting tech with three switch backside take offs – was rewarded by the judges. Given an outside chance, he was primed to challenge the medals.

“This was set to be one of the all-time halfpipe finals”

With a pristine looking pipe for the first time in a few Olympic cycles and a calm, sunny day forecast there was no room for any ifs, buts or maybes – and bar the lack of defending champion Iouri Podladchikov due to an injury, this was set to be one of the all-time halfpipe finals.

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South Korea is a pretty fun place

Though the scores were massive yesterday, we knew that each of the top three had something up their sleeves: Ayumu could convert his front and cab 1080s into 1440s, Scotty was yet to put down his three 1260s here in Korea and rumours of something new were swirling around El Blanco. And dropping last, he was already in the place he loves the most – could he make it four-from-four for the USA snowboard team so far?

Enough pre-amble, you deserve the results – here’s what went down.

Shaun White, USA, celebrates winning the mens Snowboard Halfpipe competition during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 14th February 2018 in South Korea © Sam Mellish

Finals

It was the kind of drama that you’d expect from a Hollywood script, but given the perfect set up there was only ever going to be one ending: Shaun White dropped into his last run in an uncharacteristic second place, tailing Ayumu Hirano and with all to play for.

He’d already shown he had the potential to equal the Japanese rider’s back-to-back 1440s on run two, but unable to put down the back double 1260 – aka the Tomahawk – it was all down to this last moment.

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That frontside 540… The Skyhook

That, however, has always been where he thrives. Frontside and cab 1440s at the top led into his signature front 540 stalefish – a feature of his run in 2006 and still a staple – before he unleashed the backside and frontside 1260s. Though their runs had the same big tricks, Shaun’s were bigger and put down earlier in the run, so when the scores came in there wasn’t much of a surprise.

Gold. His third in four Olympics, and the USA’s fourth from four so far in Pyeongchang 2018.

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There’s only one Shaun White, but thats what three Olympic gold feel like

It was the perfect, redemptive third act to his story arc after crashing out in Sochi four years ago, and the chances are slim that we’ll see anyone as dominant in competitive snowboarding again. At 31, it’s unlikely we’ll see him in Beijing 2022, but in actual fact, only time will tell.

“It was the perfect, redemptive third act to his story arc after crashing out in Sochi four years ago”

Ayuma Hirano's first hit...

Ayuma Hirano’s first hit… Photo: Sam Mellish

  1. Shaun White (USA) – 97.75
  2. Ayumu Hirano (JPN) – 95.25
  3. Scotty James (AUS) – 92.00
  4. Ben Ferguson (USA) – 90.75
  5. Patrick Burgener (SUI) – 89.75
  6. Chase Josey (USA) – 88.00
  7. Raibu Katayama (JPN) – 87.00
  8. Jake Pates (USA) – 82.25
  9. Jan Scherrer (SUI) – 80.50
  10. Kent Callister (AUS) – 62.00
  11. Yuto Totsuka (JPN) – 39.25
  12. Peetu Piiroinen (FIN) – 13.50

Ayumu looked disappointed when the last score came in, but in truth, each of the top six put their very best on the line – there was nowhere left to go. His backside air and back-to-back 14s and 12s were truly monstrous, and although arguably cleaner were still just off the amplitude of El Blanco’s.

Finishing with the bronze, Scotty James was the third ‘alien’ in this pack. After putting his best run down in the first round, he spent the next two trying to clean it up and go bigger. Frontside double 1260, backside 1260, frontside 1080, cab 540 taipan finishing with his switch backside 1260, arguably the single hardest trick out there right now. It’s an amazing run, but one that’s played second fiddle to the two riders above him today twice already this season.

Ben Ferguson had a completely different approach but didn’t change his run from the previous day. With an indy grab in and air-to-fakie to start, he included three doubles, all switch: cab double 1080, switch double crippler and a switch double rodeo with a huge, almost cheeky backside 360 thrown in before the end.

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Ayumu Hirano’s frontside double 1440, arguably the cleanest today

That was good enough for fourth, just edging out Pat Burgener into fifth. Compared to qualifiers, he was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day with an absolute blinder of a run that included a frontside 1260, switch backside 1260 and switch double Michalchuk, all put down on his last go.

He was a positive force in Bokwang today, constantly smiling and telling the camera he was doing it “for Switzerland, for Korea, for the USA… United world!” Especially challenging considering he had to drop straight after sixteen-year-old Yuto Totsuka‘s horrendous slam, hitting the coping at full force on a front dub 10 – we hope he recovers soon.

Pat Burgener getting psyched to drop, a positive force for good on the course today and a well-deserved fifth-place finish

Pat Burgener getting psyched to drop, a positive force for good on the course today and a well-deserved fifth-place finish

Chase Josey‘s sixth-place finish probably would have podiumed at a normal event, again going a different route to most of the field with switch double Michalchucks and cripplers, and at 22 he’s maybe still got another winter games in him if the throne is vacated by the next cycle. In fact, every one of the nine riders that put down a clean run scored in the 80s, probably the best indicator of the standard today.

Drama! Scotty James had an unbelievable run, finishing with a switch backside 1260, but was pipped once again by Hirano and White. Photo: Sam Mellish

Drama! Scotty James had an unbelievable run, finishing with this switch backside 1260, but was pipped once again by Hirano and White. Photo: Sam Mellish

This final showed just how good the Olympic halfpipe can be – and was definitely worth the (for us) early morning start. With all the best riders in one place at one time, everything to play for and an estimated viewing audience of 100 million, it really does bring the drama. Hearts were in mouths and more than one of our late-night team were out of their seats and shouting, waking up babies and pets alike.

After the disappointment with the weather in the women’s slopestyle, there’s consolation in that snowboarding has still provided some of the best stories of the Games so far.

A class of his own?

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