Shiffrin sees other, less obvious benefits to Ledecka’s dual track. She spoke of the jaw-dropping lines that Ledecka carves on Alpine courses, a knack that Ledecka’s snowboarding coach, Reiter, attributes to her experience maneuvering on a snowboard, which, because it has no steadying or stabilizing poles, requires seeing a mountain in a more imaginative way.
Shiffrin, 22, recalled a downhill training run in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November. Ledecka recorded the fastest time, she said, and “everybody stopped and jaws dropped, like that run isn’t supposed to be skied that way.”
“It made everybody think about how much better we could all ski the course,” Shiffrin added.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Ledecka’s success here, Reiter said, it is that the drive to specialize early, the better to achieve fame and fortune in sport, “should be redefined.”
Michael Trapp, an American who trains with Ledecka in Colorado, said her passion, and persistence, more than her talent or versatility, is what sets her apart. “She’s the hardest-working athlete I’ve ever met,” Trapp said, adding that she will train in any conditions “and if she doesn’t come out with the fastest runs she’s mad about it. She acts like every day is a race day.”
Trapp, 29, started out in all five snowboarding disciplines but was encouraged by his coaches to choose freestyle or racing. If he were a young child now, he might be inspired by Ledecka’s example “to try more disciplines and stick with more disciplines,” Trapp said. “Just with her and her resilience to say, ‘No, I want to do what I want to do.’ That’s kind of her motto.”
The evolution of sports is driven by athletes whose unique vision opens everyone else’s eyes to what is possible. Ledecka is a throwback outlier, someone whose refusal to specialize has a back-to-the-future feel — and appeal. Shiffrin watched Ledecka’s super-G run and knew she was seeing something special.
“I was screaming and crying when she came down and won that gold,” she said. Shiffrin added with a laugh, “I thought this sport was hard, but apparently not.”