PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – On a snowboard and skis, Ester Ledecka is a history-making Olympic gold medalist.
One of the surprising breakout stars of the Winter Games, the Czech pulled double-duty on the slopes in Pyeongchang and became the first to win snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom and skiing’s Alpine super-G.
She outraced Selina Joerg of Germany to the line in the final of the snowboarding event Saturday and won by .46 seconds. That came seven days after she won the super-G by .01 seconds – and shocked everyone, including herself.
“It was a great day,” Ledecka said Saturday. “I enjoyed every run and I’m very happy to be here and stand on the highest place.”
That’s also where the United States’ curling team is after winning the men’s final , beating Sweden 10-7.
The upset was only the second curling medal in U.S. history, with the first coming in a bronze-medal game at the 2006 Turin Games.
“It feels almost unbelievable,” Team USA’s Matt Hamilton said, “but we came out here with great intensity and just had to believe we could do it, and make our shots.”
Switzerland won the debut of the Alpine team event, but Norway’s third-place finish gave it a record 38 medals at a single Winter Olympics.
“Even underneath the suit, I get goosebumps talking about it,” Norway’s Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen said.
Iivo Niskanen of Finland took gold in cross-country’s 50-kilometer mass start , Sebastien Toutant of Canada won the men’s Big Air snowboarding event and Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland was the winner of the men’s parallel giant slalom.
Two more gold medals were scheduled to be awarded later Saturday: the men’s and women’s mass start events in speedskating.
Also, Japan and Britain were playing for the bronze in women’s curling, and the Czech Republic was taking on Canada for bronze in men’s hockey.
At Yongpyong Alpine Center, Ledecka had the fastest qualifying time in the women’s parallel giant slalom. Her fourth race was decided when her opponent slid off the course.
She had been considered a favorite for gold in snowboarding after being the top-ranked woman on the circuit, but she hadn’t come even close to that success in skiing.
Until last week.
“(People) were reminding me, ‘Yeah, you’re a skier, you did a great success,’ which was very nice,” she said, “but I was thinking, ‘OK, but you have to change and be a snowboarder already.'”
No problems there.
“What happened here,” said Ledecka’s snowboard coach, Justin Reiter, “was once-in-a-lifetime.”
MIRACURL ON ICE
John Shuster has been part of both of the United States’ men’s curling medals, this time skipping the squad to the upset of Sweden.
He converted a double-takeout for a five-ender in the eighth, a very rare score that made it 10-5 and basically sealed the win.
The U.S. needed three straight victories to advance to the playoffs and then a semifinal victory over three-time defending gold medalist Canada to get here.
“We knew we were close,” Hamilton said, “and to make the breakthrough here at the Olympics is just amazing.”
Norway leads the medals table with 13 gold, 14 silver and 11 bronze, breaking the record of 37 overall set at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by the Americans.
“It’s just a really cool feeling to feel that the whole team succeeded today,” Nina Haver-Loeseth said after Norway edged France for the bronze. “I think that Norwegian Alpine skiers had a very successful Olympics. We’ve been at the medal plaza, cheering our teammates on and I was like, ‘We are not leaving here without a medal.’ So it means a lot.”
Switzerland knocked off top-seeded Austria in the gold-medal race. Leading 2-1, Swiss ski racer Daniel Yule wrapped up the win when Austrian rival Marco Schwarz skied out along the side-by-side parallel slalom course.
“For us skiers who usually are always doing an individual sport, to just do this all together like this for Team Switzerland, that was just amazing,” Yule said. “It’s just that much more fun.”
Niskanen beat out Russian rival Alexander Bolshunov with a strong sprint in the 50-kilometer mass start to give Finland its first gold of the Pyeongchang Games.
“The first, but not the last,” Niskanen said. “Tomorrow is a new day. I (was) wanting to win my gold medal (over) this distance and it had been long years.”
Niskanen won the marathon event in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 22.1 seconds – more than 18 seconds ahead of Bolshunov.
Another Russian, Andrey Larkov, won the bronze.
SOARING TO GOLD
Toutant won in the Olympic debut of men’s Big Air by scoring 174.25 points in the final.
Kyle Mack of the United States took second with a score of 168.75, and Billy Morgan of Britain earned bronze.
Red Gerard, who won the first gold medal for the United States in Pyeongchang in the slopestyle event two weeks ago, finished fifth.
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