Ester Ledecká has produced one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Winter Olympics by winning the women’s super-G on a pair of skis borrowed from American alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
The 22-year-old Czech was ranked 43rd in the World Cup standings in super-G, and had never finished better than 19th.
She was thought to have a much better chance of gold in the snowboarding events she will also contest in Pyeongchang – a rare double-up.
Super-G, short for super giant slalom, is an alpine skiing event with faster and wider turns than giant slalom. It is considered a speed event, unlike slalom and giant slalom, which are more technical.
Ledecká 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 she started her run, Austrian Anna Veith was at the bottom of the slope taking phone calls and preparing to celebrate becoming the 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 1:21.11 seconds.
Ledecká 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 OK 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 OK, this is weird.”
Veith’s time of 1:21.12 was 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, Ledecká 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,” Ledecká 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.”
Ledecká wore her goggles to the post-event press conference, saying she was not expecting to be on the podium and did not have time to put makeup on.