KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Andrew Weibrecht’s Olympic bronze medal from the 2010 Vancouver super-G sits in a glass case behind the front desk of the Mirror Lake Inn. His parents own the luxury hotel in Lake Placid, N.Y., and for the past four years this Olympic medal appeared to be the only trophy that their son would win.
Now the Weibrechts will have to enlarge the case. Andrew Weibrecht skied the men’s super-G at Rosa Khutor like a man possessed, overcoming a late start position — and an unending list of injuries, illness and poor races in the last four years — to take the silver medal.
After he crossed the finish line, the man known as Warhorse bent over, and the audience could sense four years of frustration pouring out of him.
“This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing that I’ve ever had,” said Weibrecht. “All the issues and troubles that I’ve had, to come and be able to have a really strong result, it reminds me of all the work that I did to come back from the injuries and all the hard times, it’s all worth it.”
Bode Miller tied for third with Canadian Jan Hudec, who joked that he was happy to tie with Miller as long as he didn’t get half a medal. Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, third in the downhill a week ago, claimed the gold.
“When Andrew was in the (start) gate, I said there’s a good chance that he wins the race right now,” said Miller. “Jansrud was like, ‘You’re not even kidding.’ I wasn’t kidding. Then Andrew came out and was up three-tenths in the first 19 seconds, we were all like whoa. Only Andrew could do that stuff.”
Miller felt he was lucky to hang onto a medal today — his sixth Olympic medal — after making a mistake on the bottom of the course. At age 36, he is now the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. When asked how that made him feel, he joked, “Old.”
Famously not a medal counter, Miller admitted that claiming bronze today was a big deal. After the year that he’s endured — a comeback from injury, as well as personal turmoil and the death of his brother last spring — Miller needed proof that the effort paid off.
“I was really happy to be on the right side of the hundredths,” he said. “Some days, medals don’t matter. Today, it does matter.”
And it mattered most for Weibrecht. For the past four years, if it weren’t for bad luck, he would have had no luck at all. Since the 2010 Games, the 28-year-old skier has undergone four surgeries — one on each shoulder and ankle — suffered a mysterious flu-like virus that felled him last winter, and simply had tough races. He’s only finished in the top 10 once since Vancouver. Even making the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team was in doubt.
There were times, even as recently as yesterday, Weibrecht confessed, when he wondered if he should retire and finish his earth science degree at Dartmouth College.
“There are only so many times you can get kicked before you start to really feel it,” he said. “I try not to focus on results, but I really needed a result that shows that I’m capable of this and that I belong here.”
Weibrecht’s bad luck continued into the super-G when he drew bib 29. With warm temperatures softening the snow at Rosa Khutor this week, skiers who have started later have suffered as the sun-softened snow slowed them down.
“When he saw the draw, it was tough,” said head coach Sasha Rearick, who calls Weibrecht a wombat for his stature more than demeanor. “He knew he had to keep fighting. All I asked him to do was beat the guys around him.”
But Rearick knew he could do more. As Weibrecht kicked out of the start, Rearick screamed, “Let the wombat out of the cage!”
Miller thinks Weibrecht is an “unbelievable talent” who could win in three events on the world cup if he would let his emotion show through his normally reserved demeanor.
“He doesn’t connect skiing with emotion,” explained Miller. “He just skies with huge intensity normally. Here (at the Winter Games), he really connects the emotion to it. That’s why he gets such crazy performances out of himself.”
Weibrecht also had Ted Ligety to thank. Before coming to Sochi, the two men trained together in Austria.
“(Ted) really gave me a different perspective on the process of carrying speed,” said Weibrecht. “Sometimes going straighter isn’t always faster. I feel like in those couple days, my skiing progressed a lot.”
The defending world super-G champion, Ligety finished 14th in the Olympic super-G. Travis Ganong was 23rd.
At home in Lake Placid, Weibrecht’s parents were awake during the wee hours watching their son race, as was Weibrecht’s wife Denja, who was “beside herself.” Ed Weibrecht had tears in his eyes and mom Lisa was “over the moon.” When asked what their son said when he called them after the race, Mr. Weibrecht chuckled.
“He said, ‘I guess I can afford a car now.’”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.