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PRAGUE: Ester Ledecka, a shock champion in two different sports in Pyeongchang four years ago, refuses to even utter the word "Olympics" as she heads to the Beijing Winter Games.

Four years ago in Pyeongchang, the 26-year-old Czech won a surprise gold in the alpine skiing super-G event before adding another in her favoured event, the snowboarding parallel giant slalom.

It made her the first athlete to win events in both alpine skiing and snowboarding at the same Olympics.

In the super-G, Ledecka edged odds-on favourite Anna Veith of Austria by the narrowest of margins, with just one hundredth of a second separating the two.

Genuinely stunned, Ledecka did not even celebrate, staring at the scoreboard in disbelief for several seconds before a TV cameraman assured her she had won.

A week later, as hot favourite, she won the parallel giant slalom to make history.

She insists the Beijing Olympics are no more than "a little friendly match" -- a term she and her team have adopted to ease the pre-event pressure.

If they utter the word "Olympics", they must pay a ten-euro ($11) fine.

"I took this precaution mainly because everyone starts behaving like a complete lunatic before 'the friendly'," she said.

Beijing Winter Olympics: Sealed off: Inside the ‘closed loop’

"The media hype about Olympic races -- oops, there goes 10 euros -- takes on massive proportions and everyone gets so crazy that they believe it might be something absolutely special even for me," she added.

"But it's just another race!"

While the tension is rising, Ledecka still loves what she does.

"I'm still the same, I just race down the hill and I still like it," Ledecka said at a recent news conference.

"But I hope I have learned something since 2018 and perhaps I am stronger and faster."

'Sense of speed'

Ledecka, the daughter of a popular Czech singer and composer, took up skiing aged two and snowboarding at five as her family left Prague each winter for the Czech mountain resort of Spindleruv Mlyn.

She and her brother Jonas -- an artist who has designed her ski suit -- even went to school there.

Snowboarding was Ledecka's first choice throughout her teenage years -- "I made money for skiing as a snowboarder," she once said -- but the balance has recently changed.

"I can take the sense of speed from skiing to snowboarding. When I switch, it feels like I have more time for everything," Ledecka said.

In Beijing, the women's snowboard parallel giant slalom takes place on February 8, three days before she has to switch to two skis for the super-G.

"The fast switch (between events) is pretty cruel. But I'm happy it's not on the same day, and in the end you just have to realise that you go headlong on two edges for a change," she said with a chuckle.

Ledecka has won two world championships titles and 20 World Cup events in snowboarding, earning an unrivalled four straight overall World Cup crowns in 2016-2019.

She returned to the sport after a year off in December, finishing second in the parallel giant slalom at Carezza and winning another at Cortina d'Ampezzo two days later.

On the ski slope, Ledecka has won two World Cup events since Pyeongchang and finished second in the overall downhill rankings in 2019/2020.

She achieved her first podium of this season when she finished third in the Cortina downhill on January 22.

Ledecka, who has disclosed a penchant for chocolate, ice-cream, shrimps and steak, said if she had any rest time in Beijing, she would watch the Harry Potter films with her coach.

"My favourite one is 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'. I love Buckbeak (the hippogriff). Would be great to have one at home!"


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