By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Ester Ledecka believes her ability to have fun on snowboard and ski gives her an edge over her rivals and she is not going to let her unprecedented success at the Pyeongchang Olympics change that any time soon.
The 22-year-old celebrated her Olympic gold medals in Alpine super-G and parallel slalom snowboarding with a riotous 50-minute media conference on Sunday.
Time and again, though, as she reviewed her life, her likes and her successes while swapping one liners and expressions of love with her entourage, Ledecka returned to one central theme.
“I don’t know how to explain this,” the Czech said. “Having fun allows me to do what I love without any great pressure. My biggest goal should be to enjoy the run and to have the best run possible, not to win the gold medals.
“I do want to win all the gold medals, but first is to do what I have learned and have fun with it.”
Ledecka said her biggest goal coming to South Korea had been simply to race in both Alpine skiing and snowboarding and that the two gold medals were a “huge bonus” that she thought would perhaps come later in her career.
Justin Reiter, the snowboard coach who came on board this season after ending his own career, said he learned pretty early on not to try and stifle Ledecka’s ambition.
“I was operating from a fear-based idea that I just wanted to be sure she won a medal (in snowboarding),” the American said.
“I realized that was really inhibiting what we were doing in that the more I wanted her to find that medal, I really stifled what could be.
“At that point it just clicked, and I said ‘let’s go for it, Ester is incredible, she’s one of a kind and we’ll make it happen’. This was her choice and (we) really empowered her to do it, and she did an amazing job.”
All of her support team stressed how much work went into Ledecka’s success and she said her ability to enjoy even the daily grind of training gave her a competitive edge.
“I feel that one of my biggest advantages is that I’m having fun with what I’m doing,” she said fingering a Native American feather threaded into her hair.
“As long as I have fun, as long as I do this for myself, it’s very special. Not all the girls have this.
“I cannot say every day I wake up and say ‘wheee! Let’s go to the hill’ because sometimes it’s like five o’clock in the morning and you just want to stay in bed.
“But as long as I’m on the hill, I feel like it’s home and I feel very good.”
Despite her ground-breaking success in Pyeongchang, Ledecka was not quite ready to assume the mantle of role model, even to those who might want to follow in her footsteps by competing in two different sports at the Olympics.
“I’m not a very good example, too crazy,” she laughed. “(But) as long as they have fun with what they do, they have the courage to stand by their decisions and just go, then it’s possible.”
As well as her two gold medals, Ledecka will also get something else she has always wanted out of her Olympic experience – a song written about her by her rock star father Janek Ledecky.
“Promise!” the man who first launched her on skis down a black run at the age of two shouted from the back of the room.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)