Can a mountain help shape a young man’s destiny?
For United States Olympic ski team member Andrew Weibrecht,one certainly has.
In his case, the mountain is Whiteface.
At 4,867 feet, the Olympic mountain is fourth-highest in the High Peak Adirondack region. It has a vertical drop of 3,430 feet (the most this side of the Rockies), and some of the most variable weather and snow conditions in the East.
That being said, Weibrecht’s experiences on Whiteface over the years helped prepare the Lake Placid native for his successful Olympic team bid.
Weibrecht, who turned 24 on Wednesday, spoke about Whiteface in a recent conference call from his home.
“In my mind, it’s a great mountain, and I have it to thank for a lot of my success,” he said. “I think that Whiteface had a huge impact on my skiing. I started out on the technical end [slalom and giant slalom] and Whiteface is super steep. It has ever-changing conditions, so I learned to ski a little bit of everything — and to really make it down the steep pitches and control myself. That has shown through to be my definite strength on the World Cup.”
Top-15 finishes in the World Cup paved his way to Olympic team selection.
Weibrecht skis in the speed events, downhill and super-G, and he’s had great finishes on some of the most intimidating downhill tracks on the World Cup circuit. Included are the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek, Colorado; the Lauberhorn at Wengen, Switzerland; and the Hahnenkam at Kitzbuehel, Austria.
For those results, you have to ski super fast, but Weibrecht said there is a lot more to it than that.
“Having started out as a technical skier, I’m still sort of learning the speed aspect of it,” he said. “I’m learning how to ski speed a little bit more each year, and I feel I’m starting to figure it out.”
He said downhill racing is “a whole different event than anything else.”
“I never feel 100 percent comfortable standing in the start because even on the tamest of courses, you’re still going 80 miles per hour and bad things can happen very quickly. That’s the coolest thing for me, standing in the start and always being nervous, but then kicking out and feeling that sense of calm that comes as soon as you push out of the gate. All the nervous energy gets translated into focus and determination to execute the plan.”
Weibrecht said during the summer he felt making the Olympics was a distant goal . . . a bit of a long shot. But after two solid results at the start of the season (he was 12th in both the opening downhill and super-G), he began thinking it might come to be.
“Once I got through the first few races, I realized it was becoming more and more of a possibility,” he said.
Now that it has happened, he is “super excited” to have accomplished that distant goal.
“To be going to the Olympics to represent my country and to be with the rest of the team . . . I know it sounds cliche, but it’s a dream come true, for sure,” he said.
U.S. ski team veteran Steve Nyman, who shared the conference call with Weibrecht, was asked about his young teammate.
“I don’t think he realizes his potential,” Nyman said. “This year he started off saying, ‘I want to get 100 World Cup points [for the season]’ and he had that within the first couple of weeks. I was like, ‘Dude, you’re good; I’m telling you right now, you’re good.’ ”
Weibrecht also has a fan in the great Swiss downhiller Didier Cuche.
After Weibrecht skied into 12th place in the opening downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, Cuche was shown in the finish area clapping, smiling and nodding with enthusiasm.
Weibrecht was asked if Cuche has ever given him advice.
He chuckled and said, “Last year, he definitely chastised me for taking so much risk and never really thinking about what I was doing. I actually got stuck in the gondola with him, and I remember talking to him about that. He was telling me about his experience, and how he spent maybe the first five or six years of his career just crashing into fences and blowing up until he finally figured out how to make it all work.
“I have a lot of respect for him, being built the same way that I am and with what he’s done in the ski racing world,” Weibrecht said. “I’ve sort of tried to model myself after him.”
A press invitation to the conference call pointed out that at 5-foot-6, Weibrecht “doesn’t have the typical downhiller build.”
Asked about that, he said, “I guess I’ve sort of made that work. In some instances, I think it gives me an advantage to have a lower profile against the wind. My center of gravity is a little bit lower, so I feel like, sometimes, it’s a little more difficult to knock me down.”
He also said his size lets him go where others haven’t.
“Sometimes, I’m able to ski a different line than other people, which, once the courses get beat up, that can be advantageous from the simple fact that my legs are shorter and I can sneak in from where everybody else is skiing.”
On Saturday, he’ll be trying to sneak in during the biggest race of his life, the 2010 Winter Olympic downhill at Vancouver.
ROOTING FOR TWO
I’m rooting for two U.S. snowboarders in Vancouver — Lindsey Jacobellis and Shaun White.
Jacobellis, because I’d like to see her redeem herself.
Jacobellis competed in snowboard cross in Torino four years ago when the sport made its Olympic debut. She was a favorite going in, so much so that she was featured in a pre-Olympic TV commercial for weeks leading up to the games.
She made it the finals, and was far ahead of the field coming off the last jump. But then she decided to do a showboat trick, and crashed. Tanja Frieden of Switzerland shot past her to take the gold. Jacobellis recovered in time to win the silver medal, but there were no more TV commercials.
Last summer, I was watching a show on television which did a segment on the “10 worst early celebration mistakes in sports.” Most showed football players celebrating before reaching the end zone and getting nailed from behind. But Jacobellis’ goof was No. 2.
She’s had four years to think about it. I hope she can make the memory go away.
Before the Torino Olympics, I thought White was just a goofy kid with long red hair and a lot of hype. After all, they called him “The Flying Tomato.” At the time, some of the snowboarders were downplaying the Olympics, saying “big deal, it’s just another competition.”
After White won his gold medal, he flew directly back to the United States for guest appearances on television shows. But he went back to Europe before the Olympics ended because it was important for him to march with the other U.S. athletes in the closing ceremony.
To me, that was classy. So good luck, Shaun.
SAY IT AGAIN, SAM
Before the Super Bowl, one of the TV stations took a poll to see what people thought the most annoying broadcaster comment would be. The winner was, “It’s too bad somebody has to lose.”
Here’s my pick for Alpine skiing in the Olympics. “If anybody can make up the time from here to the bottom, he [she] can.”
Former Section II racers continue to perform well for the Clarkson University Nordic team.
The Golden Knights finished first out of six teams for a third straight year at Clarkson’s own invitational Sunday at Lake Placid.
Sophomore Alex Benway, a former Queensbury High School skier, was first, with 2009 Scotia-Glenville graduate Dan Stevens second.
Clarkson freshman Rachel Bachman, another Queensbury graduate, finished second in the women’s race.