Czech athlete transitions from snowboard to ski at World Cup
In this Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, Czech Republic's Ester Ledecka competes to win the women's parallel slalom event at the Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Lachtal, Austria. (AP / Darko Bandic, file)
Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press
Published Monday, February 22, 2016 7:15AM EST
LA THUILE, Italy -- When Ester Ledecka charges down the mountain, she often has to remind herself whether she has a snowboard or skis attached to her feet.
"I'm always confused," said Ledecka, the first elite snowboarder to compete on the Alpine skiing World Cup. "Every time when I switch from one to another my coaches are saying either that I'm skiing like a snowboarder or snowboarding like a skier."
Somehow, though, the 20-year-old Czech athlete is making the difficult transition work.
Having won the parallel slalom at last year's snowboarding world championships, Ledecka made her Alpine skiing World Cup debut this month and has finished in the points (top 30) in four of her first five races in the challenging disciplines of downhill and super-G. That's an accomplishment that takes years of racing for many top athletes.
"It's pretty incredible what she's able to do," World Cup leader Lindsey Vonn said. "I wish I had that much athletic talent. I'm only good at skiing. I only have the one sport."
Ledecka's first sport was hockey. She then started skiing at the age of 4 before switching to freestyle snowboarding and eventually Alpine snowboarding and is now back to skis. Throughout her snowboarding career, she's been skiing on her off days.
"Everybody thinks I'm crazy," Ledecka said after finishing 23rd in Saturday's downhill in La Thuile. "I know. I am crazy. But I love the way it is and I love that all the girls here are really nice to me and welcome me."
Ledecka is still snowboarding, too. She has won two World Cup races this season and plans to keep going back and forth between the two sports, using her sponsorship money from snowboarding to fund her skiing career.
"There are more people here cheering than in snowboarding. But to be honest there is not that big of a difference," she said. "Only that on snowboards I have the bindings together but it's downhill anyway."
Ledecka's ultimate goal is to compete in both sports at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Czech ski team for the 2014 Sochi Games, in which she placed sixth in the parallel slalom and seventh in GS in snowboarding.
"This time I really would like to do both," Ledecka said. "Everything is possible."
Ledecka's grandfather, Jan Klapac, won two Olympic medals in hockey for Czechoslovakia in 1964 and 1968 and her mother, Zuzana, was a figure skater.
Perhaps it's not surprising then that Ledecka translates from Czech as "ice woman."
Ledecka's father, Janek, is a well-known singer and composer.
The family is not related to the record-breaking American swimmer Katie Ledecky, who is of Czech origin.
"She's not my sister. But I wish she was because she's very good," Ledecka said. "I cheer for her every time like we are sisters."
While swimming may be out of the question, Ledecka does like summer sports like beach volleyball and windsurfing. She's also looking to expand into the skiing disciplines of giant slalom and slalom.
And if anyone ever develops a combined event where you start on skis and switch to a snowboard halfway down the slope, Ledecka would be tough to beat in that.
"I would like that," she said. "We can make this a discipline. I will do it."