Weibrecht, Bode reach podium again
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- At age 36 and skiing in his fifth Olympics, Bode Miller earned his sixth medal Sunday to became the oldest medalist in alpine history. The greatest male skier in American history won that medal by tying Canada's Jan Hudec with a time of 1:18.67 in the super-G, marking just the sixth time in Olympic alpine history -- and the second this week -- there has been a tie for a medal.
And that wasn't the big story of the day.
No, that's because as reporters busily tweeted messages about Miller sitting on a likely silver medal while the lower-seeded skiers took their runs, Andrew Weibrecht suddenly came flying down the super-G course with a tale that simply can't fit into 140 characters.
You might recall that Weibrecht took the bronze in the super-G at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; or maybe you don't because Miller won the silver that race. Until Sunday, it looked as if that race also would mark the peak of his career. Weibrecht is known as "Warhorse," a fitting nickname given his many injuries and surgeries. He had so many setbacks and so few rewards the past four years (just one World Cup top-10 finish) that he acknowledged he had considered giving up his career on several occasions.
"Even," he said, "as recently as yesterday."
That was the day when the super-G draw for starting positions was held and Weibrecht received the 29th spot, when course conditions were starting to steadily deteriorate. "I didn't really think I had much of a chance because of my late start number," he said.
And yet after receiving valuable course reports from Miller and Ted Ligety, plus shouts of encouragement from ski coach Sasha Rearick -- "Let the wombat out of his cage!" -- Weibrecht threw down an amazing run. He finished in 1.18.44, three-tenths of a second behind gold medalist Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, to put an end to those first-week U.S. alpine disappointments and criticisms. After no medals for U.S. men the first week, two Americans stepped onto the podium Sunday, Weibrecht with silver and Miller with bronze.
"This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing that I've had," Weibrecht said. "It's been a pretty difficult four years and it's one of those things where you can only be beat down so many times before you start to really look at what you're doing. I didn't know how many beat-downs I could take."
How many beat-downs? Right after the Vancouver Games, Weibrecht tore the rotator cuff and labrum in his right shoulder. That injury required surgery. Then he tore ligaments in his left ankle. That injury required a boot. Then he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, which required another surgery. Just three days after returning from that surgery, he tore the lateral ligaments in his right ankle, which required two surgeries.
He was struggling so much, he was reduced to the U.S. "B" team last year, which cut his funding enough that his wife, Denja, doesn't have a car anymore. But when Weibrecht called his father, Ed, back home in Lake Placid, N.Y., the first thing he told him was: "I guess I can afford a car now."
Weibrecht has never been on the podium in a World Cup race, but he has two Olympic medals. How does that make any sense?
"He's so much better than his results show," Miller said. "He's one of the guys in World Cup who could consistently win in three events. The one thing he sort of loses out of is the intensity. I think that's why he does so well in the Olympics because everyone is focused on them and he lets his emotion out.
"He's usually fairly reserved emotionally and he doesn't connect skiing with emotion. I think here he connects the emotion to it and I think that's why he gets such crazy performances out of it."
The interesting thing is, when Miller infamously flopped at the 2006 Torino Games, it was in part because he was conflicted enough over the Olympics (sport and world unity, but also corruption and abuse) that it sucked some of the motivation and emotion from his performance. Racing well is always more important to him than a medal.
Even Sunday, Miller talked as much about the mistakes he made -- he said he lost precious time by going too hard at the bottom of the course -- as he did about his sixth medal.
"I've never been stuck on counting the medals," he said. "For me, I've put in a lot of work. This was a really hard year and a lot of effort coming back to get fit and ready. To come out and ski hard, it's almost therapeutic to be in these situations where I really have to test myself. I was happy to have it be on the right side of the hundredths."
Yet Miller also showed plenty of emotion. He cried when he hugged his wife, professional beach volleyball player Morgan Miller, after the race and attributed the tears to memories of his younger brother, Chelone, who died last year.
"Losing my brother this past year was really hard for myself and my family," Miller said. "My racing has been a focal point for them over the years. There were a lot of emotions. To have things go well today, I felt very fortunate to come out with a medal."
Asked what the six Olympic alpine medals meant to him, Miller simply shrugged. "It means I'm old."
No matter their ages or injuries, the two skiers have not given up.
"Today is a great affirmation of all the work I've done," Weibrecht said. "It really shows me that what I've been doing is worth it."