On Friday, Andrew Weibrecht will slide into the start of the Birds of Prey downhill course at Beaver Creek, Colorado. On Saturday, he’ll be shooting for the podium in super-G, the same event in which he has won two Olympic medals.
For Weibrecht, it’s a whole new year. And he’s fired up about it. This time around, he has been able to enjoy his Olympic silver medal earned in Sochi, Russia, unlike in 2010 when he crashed after the Vancouver Games and began a four-year battle with injuries and other issues.
“I think that just not being injured this summer, not having to deal with the surgery process, that gave me a lot of life,” he said recently. “That and the medal, obviously. I’m really excited to go into the season.”
|Silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's super-G at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Medals Plaza on Feb. 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.|
The Beaver Creek World Cup serves as a test event for the upcoming 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek in February. And like in Sochi and Vancouver, Weibrecht is hoping to find that magic again.
“There’s a lot of energy around the Olympics and world championships, especially (competing) at home,” he said earlier this fall at a 2015 Vail/Beaver Creek press conference. “To me, that’s a huge part of it is having the extra energy and people excited about it. That makes it easy to take a normal race and turn it into an extraordinary race.”
Although he says he is taking it one year at a time, a renewed Weibrecht does not anticipate quitting any time soon.
“If all goes well, I’ll try to go through 2018 and see where I’m at then,” he said.
That’s not something the 28-year-old Weibrecht would have said a year ago. Back then, Weibrecht was a beaten-down warrior. Warhorse, as he’s known, needed to prove that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder with that medal from the Vancouver Games, and that all the work he had done to overcome several injuries was going to pay off.
So far, it hadn’t. In the quadrennial between the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Weibrecht’s best world cup result was 10th. He had had four surgeries — one on each shoulder and one on each ankle — and he skied through half a season with an energy-sapping virus.
“It wasn’t really a glamorous time in my life,” said Weibrecht, who’s both understated and wryly funny.
The only happy occasion in Weibrecht’s life seemed to be his wedding to Denja Rand in September 2012.
Demoted to the U.S. Ski Team’s B team, Weibrecht wondered if he should quit skiing and move on with life.
“Andrew’s always been extremely strong, agile and athletic since he could walk,” said Ed Weibrecht, Andrew’s dad. “He’s always been used to watching and analyzing something, then just doing it. He never really had much of a learning curve. He just paid attention to somebody else doing something, and he just did it. So it was really difficult for him to go through those four years and every time he turned around, something else was broken.”
Warhorse never complained. “He’s very, very tough,” said Ed Weibrecht.
But it was tough for someone who grew up with very little fear.
“If you look at some of his runs, like some of his crashes and even the original Beaver Creek (downhill),” said Ed Weibrecht, referring to his son’s world cup breakthrough in 2007 where he landed 10th after a wild ride down the Birds of Prey, “you wonder how somebody gets up from them and does it again.”
Yet that was exactly what Weibrecht was supposed to do after this unending string of physical setbacks.
That all changed last February in Sochi, when Warhorse stomped from the 29th starting slot to finish second and win his second Olympic medal. It was an emotional comeback that few thought possible.
“I think in his mind, Sochi was a do or die situation for him,” said Ed Weibrecht.
Weibrecht’s two Olympic medals now sit in glass cases behind the front desk of the Mirror Lake Inn, the resort owned by his parents in Lake Placid, New York. He is now one of five American men who have won more than one Olympic medal, joining Ted Ligety, Phil Mahre, Bode Miller and on the list.
|Andrew Weibrecht stands in front of his two Olympic medals, silver and bronze, at Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, New York.|
Coming into the 2014-15 ski season, Weibrecht was able to train at full speed for the first time in over four years. He also spent time at home with Rand, who works as a second-grade teacher in Lake Placid.
“He’s settled down to a clear direction,” said head alpine coach Sasha Rearick, adding that Weibrecht has always been focused and a hard worker.
“This summer, he was more relaxed with less anxiety,” added Rearick. “When he had a bad day or good day, he was not overly excited or overly down.”
In the season’s first super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta, Weibrecht led the U.S. men, finishing 20th.
“Some ups and downs all wrapped up in the same run,” he posted on Facebook. “There were some real nice sections in there, I just didn't put it all together. Live and learn and then move on to ‘the beave.’”
Weibrecht called the 2015 World Championships “a rare opportunity” to ski in a big championship in front of a home crowd. World championships were last held in the U.S. in 1999. Of the skiers currently on the U.S. team, only Bode Miller competed then.
“From (a ski racer’s) perspective, this is probably the biggest race that we have,” Weibrecht said. “It’s bigger than the Olympics.”
This should be good for Weibrecht, whom Miller says needs to connect emotion to intensity in ski racing.
“He’s so much better than his results show on the world cup,” said Miller after the Sochi super-G. “He’s an unbelievable talent. The one thing he loses out on is the emotion. He’s usually pretty reserved emotionally. You put him in a big Games, everybody is focused on him. He has tons of emotion, and he lets his emotion out.”
Although Weibrecht is considered a medal contender — both in this weekend’s world cup super-G and at the world championships — he wryly points out, “there are probably about 30 guys who are my biggest competition.”
“It will be interesting to see who’s put together a good program over the summer and who’s on fire,” said Weibrecht, who added that the Beaver Creek World Cup this weekend will give a good preview of world championship favorites.
Asked if there’s room behind the Mirror Lake Inn’s front desk for another medal, Ed Weibrecht said, “Sure, we’ll make room.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.