Historic Super-g for U.S.

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Friday, February 19, 2010 11:02pm
  • SportsSports

WHISTLER, B.C. — One American skier took another step toward redeeming himself, while another simply made a name for himself.

And together, Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht helped the U.S. Ski Team make history.

Miller — who despite a decorated career that includes a World Cup championship is best known as the Big Flop of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin — won his second medal in as many events Friday, earning silver in the men’s super-G. Weibrecht is a 23-year-old who had never finished better than 10th in a World Cup race. He won a surprise bronze by setting an early pace with the third run of the day that just Miller and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the gold medalist, could top.

Miller and Weibrecht earned the fifth and sixth medals for U.S. Alpine skiers at the Vancouver Games, setting a new standard for the U.S. ski team. The previous high for a Winter Games was five in 1984.

There are six more Alpine events. And there’s no reason to think the Americans, who have won six of the 12 medals handed out in Alpine skiing thus far, won’t add to that record haul. Lindsey Vonn and Miller are both threats to medal in each remaining event; Julia Mancuso, who already has two medals, could add more; and Ted Ligety is the defending Olympic champ in the giant slalom.

“That’s incredible that we came out firing so well, especially in a year, particularly on the men’s side, where we haven’t had a whole lot of podiums or wins or anything like that,” said Weibrecht, who made his Olympic debut earlier in the week in the downhill.

So just how did Miller’s bronze in the men’s downhill lead to such a flood of medals for a U.S. team that, aside from Vonn, hadn’t accomplished a lot on the World Cup circuit this year?

“Aside from the fact that we’re just much better than everybody else?” Miller deadpanned. “I think once you start to get momentum going as a team, especially at the Olympics… . You need a tight group to feel the momentum, and we all were at the opening ceremonies together, and it’s a group of young athletes who feed off that really easily. As soon as you watch your teammates experience that joy, that excitement, it makes it much more real and much more accessible for the other athletes.”

The fact Miller is experiencing any joy at these games is a huge change of pace from four years ago, when he entered the Turin Games as America’s most hyped athlete. Instead of improving upon his two-medal showing in 2002, Miller failed to medal in 2006, and was labeled a failure.

“In ’06 maybe I didn’t feel very happy about where I was at,” he said. “I didn’t even feel like I was interested in the medals or the results at that point, and as it got closer and closer I felt more and more trapped by what everyone else was saying. I had almost no ownership over my results or my situation at that time because too many people had said that, ‘Oh, he’s going to win these medals, and this is the way he skis, and this is who he is, and this is how he acts.’ And when everyone says that about you for that long to millions of people, you don’t feel like you have ownership of your own actions anymore.

“A lot of the way I acted there was simply the result of feeling like that was the case. I wasn’t focused on racing, I wasn’t focused on enjoying myself. I was focused on taking back my freedom and taking back my ownership of who I was as a racer and as a person. I think that was a negative place to be going into an Olympics.”

But coming into these games under the radar, feeling a new appreciation from his sport after walking away last year before the World Championships and contemplating retirement, Miller is back to being one of the world’s best skiers. With four medals, he has more than any U.S. Alpine skier in history, and more Winter Olympic medals than any non-speed skater in U.S. history.

By walking away and by avoiding pre-Olympic hype, the 32-year-old Miller was able to come back and enjoy what will likely be his final Olympics.

“Last year when I walked away from the World Championships was probably the most important thing I could have done,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away from a sport I’ve done since I was 10 years old at a high level, and I had to be willing to walk away from it 100 percent. I wasn’t faking it, I literally left. I didn’t train, I didn’t have any skis, I had no coaches. In September, I had zero likelihood of racing this year… . I was really away from it, and to be 100 percent away from it like that is the only way that you can have a clear look at what you’re trying to do and where you’re motivation is. And once I started to readdress it and come at it fresh, I saw that there were still some areas where I can still be viable in this sport.”

Viable indeed. Not only is Miller back on the podium, he has become a valuable teammate. Following the 2006 Olympics, he spent time competing on his own when he grew frustrated with some of the U.S. team’s rules and policies. He retuned to the team before this season, and has served as a mentor to young skiers like Weibrecht.

And it’s fitting then that Weibrecht medaled by, for lack of a better term, “Bodeing” his way down the course.

Weibrecht’s run looked wild. As it turns out, Weibrecht was, as Miller has done so many times in his career, walking the fine line between pushing himself and skiing out of control. On this course, a little wild was a lot fast.

“It was definitely a wild ride for me,” Weibrecht said. “I was giving it everything I had and I was expecting to make mistakes. I knew that if I was going that hard, I wouldn’t ski it cleanly, and that was all part of the plan. Just kind of roll with the punches and do the best I could with an ever-changing run.”

Before Friday, Weibrecht was best known as the guy who, two seasons ago as an unknown, finished a surprising 10th at a World Cup Downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo. Today, he’ll be known in a lot more places than his hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y.

“If you don’t watch ski racing every weekend, you might miss my name,” he said. “Yeah, it definitely feels good to establish myself as a name a little bit. This is a great place to do it. This is the best possible place to have a great race… . I came into this week hoping that I could get a new label other than the guy who had a good run at Beaver Creek two years ago.”

Weibrecht will get his wish. He’ll leave Whistler as an Olympic medalist, as part of a historical effort for the U.S. ski team.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Olympics coverage, go to heraldnet.com/olympics

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