PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Is one of the world’s fastest female skiers related to one of its fastest swimmers? Or is it just a coincidence that Katie Ledecky appears to share a similar surname with Ester Ledecka, the Czech skier who surprised the Alpine world by winning gold in Saturday’s super-G race?
Ledecky — the swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist — sent out a tweet following Ledecka’s sensational winning run, congratulating the ski racer. “That’s what Ledecka’s do!!!” Ledecky wrote.
But she also raised a question that might have been on the minds of many.
“Ester, I think we’re related, we need to do a DNA test?” she wrote in another tweet, using the hashtag #CousinsInGold.
What’s clear is both are phenomenal athletes. Ledecky is only 20 years old and has already competed in two Olympics and won 14 world titles. Ledecka, 22, is the only Olympian to compete in both snowboarding and skiing at a Winter Games. She already had a pair of world championships on a snowboard and now owns an Olympic title on skis. What’s less clear is whether genetics — even the tiniest hint of shared DNA — could help explain what makes them both so athletically gifted.
The New York Times reported in November that there is no relation, but neither Olympian seems as certain. Asked following her race Saturday whether she was aware of any family ties, Ledecka said, “I don’t know. I hope so. She is great.”
The Ledecky family is also not sure and leaves open the possibility that the two might be distant cousins.
The swimmer’s paternal grandfather, Jaromir Ledecky, was born in Czechoslovakia and came to the United States in 1947, eventually becoming an economist with a PhD from NYU. Ledecka’s father is named Janek Ledecky. He is a popular musician in the Czech Republic and has been putting out albums for more than 30 years. Before Jaromir died in 2011, he used to share Janek’s CDs with his family, telling them that the singer was a distant cousin. Ledecky’s father, David, says there could possibly be a connection dating back to Katie’s great-great grandfather, but no one knows for certain.
Even as the swimmer has become internationally renown for her swimming pool exploits, Ledecka says she has never heard of a shared blood line. “Just the same name,” she said.
Asked whether Ledecky or Ledecka is a common name in the Czech Republic, she said, “No, not at all.”
For some, that means the odds are pretty decent that the two Olympians just might share a drop of the same athletic magic in their DNA. Michael Ledecky, Katie’s brother, did some online research in the wee hours Saturday morning, following the super-G, and noted on Twitter that only two Ledeckys have ever competed in an Olympics.
“From what’s available online, I’d also estimate that there are no more than 1,000 Ledeckys alive in the world today,” he said. “Pretty good gold medal per capita!”