Behind the Gold: Just having fun
The most viewed U.S. Alpine Ski Team video on YouTube is about a then little known athlete from Lake Placid barreling through fog and snow in the Birds of Prey downhill in 2007 at Beaver Creek, starting well back in 53rd and finishing 10th — a breakthrough day, capping three Americans in the top 10.
At every split he challenged race leader Michael Walchhofer, who was long since celebrating his victory. He was nearly in the nets several times, launching off Golden Eagle and careening off line, then vaulting up on one ski on a roller through Harrier, his life on the edge.
Most of all, though, he was having fun.
Andrew Weibrecht has had a journeyman’s career on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup tour. He’s fought injuries and tough luck, interspersed with Olympic super G medals in Vancouver and Sochi. Still, a life goal had eluded him — to be on the podium in a World Cup.
That ended at Audi Birds of Prey Race Week in Beaver Creek this month when he and teammate Ted Ligety combined to take second and third on a weather day not unlike that breakthrough moment in 2007.
While Bode Miller, Ligety and Lindsey Vonn have been enjoying global stardom, Weibrecht has picked up a strong cult following of die-hard ski racing fans. He’s the ski racer who can always surprise. He’s also the guy who’s fought through hardship of injury and the mind games of results that sometimes just didn’t come.
His success from the Vancouver bronze was short lived as injuries took a toll. He came into the 2014 Olympic season with a do-or-die attitude. As Weibrecht stood in the starting gate at Sochi, in his mind he came to grips with the fact that it was his final ski race — a day to ski like he wanted to ski and have fun and, that he did, winning silver.
“My career was over at one point and then I came through with a result that revitalized it,” he said in an interview recently. “Now, I’m enjoying it again. I could walk away from the sport tomorrow and feel good about the career I’ve had. Now, I’m doing it for the love of it and fun of it.”
Still, that goal of achieving World Cup success continued to elude him.
Super G day at Beaver Creek dawned with snow and fog — a nasty morning. No worries for Weibrecht, who inspected with coaches and came up with his game plan, buoyed by his fifth-place finish a day earlier. He was feeling confident.
As he waited patiently at the start, he pulled on his bib number 10. It was starting to snow with weather descending on the Brink and enveloping the lowered start house. He was in a good place — relaxed and confident.
Soon, it was his turn. He planted his poles firmly in the snow and pushed out into the clouds. The snow was perfect, a nice course set with nothing too stressful. He made a mistake up top but no big deal. He recovered and kept his Head skis pointing down the fall line.
This was what he lived for — to be racing speed in front of the home fans on a course he loved. As he arced tight turns down through Russi’s Ride heading toward Golden Eagle, he began laughing to himself inside his helmet.
“I was just having so much fun,” Weibrecht said.
Unlike the wild ride of 2007, Weibrecht’s podium run was smooth as butter with beautiful, clean turns. As he came off Red Tail and into the finish, he was smiling. He was having fun again, skiing the way he wanted to ski, another monkey off his back.
His next goal, a World Cup win.
Behind the Gold is a weekly column written by Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.
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