Andrew Weibrecht is the most accomplished male Alpine skier ever from upstate New York. The Lake Placid native, now 35 years old, won Olympic medals in the 2010 and 2014 games in the Super G. event, and retired after the 2018 Games.
So what are his plans for the Olympics that begin next week?
He’ll be home watching the games on television, just like the rest of us.
Will he miss being there in person?
“Not at all,” said Weibrecht recently.
While now married and the father of three, Weibrecht may not want to be in the thick of the competition this time, but many of his former Alpine teammates still are and he has some thoughts on what we will see in the days ahead.
For certain, one thing that is drawing a lot of attention is the Alpine ski venue. Located in Yanqing approximately 45 miles northwest of Beijing, the Olympic runs have been created specifically for the Games and, because of COVID-related restrictions and protocols, there were not the customary World Cup test events held there the past year. A week before the competition begins, the runs remain a mystery.
“Nobody has seen the courses in person. No one has raced there,” Weibrecht said. “We know the area does not get much snow, so all the competitions will be held on machine-made surfaces. But at the international racing level that is commonplace now.”
However, according to Weibrecht, all snow is not the same.
“The climate there is very dry, and because it is a high desert area, there likely will be grit and sediment in the snow. That will make the racing more technical, which favors the more experienced racers,” Weibrecht said.
For the men, Weibrecht sees U.S. Olympic veterans Travis Ganong and Ryan Cochran-Siegle having a bit of an advantage among the Americans entered in the downhill and Super G events.
“They have been around a while,” Weibrecht said. “They know how to adjust.”
Weibrecht added: “I always liked the speed tracks people hadn’t been on. I was analytical. I liked figuring out the course on the run.”
In the women’s competition, not surprisingly Weibrecht likes Mikaela Shiffrin’s chances for the same reason.
“These courses benefit her style of racing,” Weibrecht said.
Shiffrin, with two Olympic Gold medals and four overall world championships already at age 26, is clearly a favorite in the slalom and giant slalom competition, and says she plans to race the speed events, too. If she were to medal in all the five events she indicates she wants to race, it would be unprecedented.
Among the emerging U.S. racers who have had strong results this winter is Super G and mens’ slalom specialist River Radamus, a first-time Olympian who turns 24 during the Games.
The first Alpine event will be the men’s downhill on Sunday, Feb. 6.
DIGGINS COULD BE THE FIRST
Elsewhere on the Olympic snow sports menu, there is a lot of attention on 30-year-old Jessie Diggins who earned the first gold medal ever for the United States in cross country skiing, teaming with now-retired Kikkan Randall to win the sprint relay in 2018.
Diggins has had a strong World Cup season this winter and plans to enter six events this time. A gold in any one race would be the first ever in an individual cross country event by an American
Two-time Olympic champion Jamie Anderson and a pair of 21-year-olds in Chloe Kim and Red Gerard will be defending their 2018 Olympic gold medals in snowboard events. While all have had good winter seasons so far and are favorites to repeat, much of the attention will go to 35-year-old Shaun White, who, then with long red hair, was known as the “Flying Tomato” when he won the first of his three Olympic golds in the halfpipe in 2006. The face of the sport for almost 20 years now, he confirmed recently that he will retire from competition after the Games.
The United States does have an outside chance to gain its first medal ever in biathlon with veteran competitors Clare Egan and Susan Dunklee having solid results in World Cup events this season. Nordic combined, which accounted for a relay medal and an individual gold by Saranac Lake’s Bill Demong at Vancouver in 2010, is a longshot for a medal this year, as is ski jumping, which has only three first-time Olympians eligible for the competition.
In freestyle, Chris Lillis from Pittsford outside Rochester has had international success in the past in aerials, while the closest local connection to the team is Union College student Hannah Soar in the moguls event. This will be the fourth Olympics for former world champion aerialist Ashley Caldwell, while freeskiers Nick Goepper in big air and David Wise in halfpipe are returning Olympic medalists from 2018.
OFF THE SNOW
Of course, there is competition off the snow with several Americans among the favorites for gold: Nathan Chen in figure skating; speedskaters Joey Mantia, Erin Jackson and Brittany Bowe; women’s two-person and monobob racers Kallie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor; and, the men’s curling team led by John Shuster.
The women’s hockey team is back to defend its gold medal from 2018, while the men’s hockey competition has been diminished by the absence of NHL players.
As usual, the competition will be intense and surprising, and no doubt there will be athletes who emerge as stars, like Andrew Weibrecht did in 2010. But this is a Winter Olympics like no other. Few spectators will see the events in person and much of the commentary we see on television will be reported, not in person from China, but via electronic feed to reporters based in studios in Connecticut.
All hope that COVID does not become the story of the games and that longstanding human rights issues in China will not overshadow the competition.
If Ryan Cochran-Siegle didn’t have enough motivation from the Games alone, the competition will mark the 50th anniversary of the gold medal won by his mother Barbara Ann at Sapporo in 1972.
The Richmond, Vermont-based Cochran family also includes aunts Marilyn and Lindy, and cousin Jimmy Cochran who were Olympic racers, too.
NO NYSEF THIS YEAR
For the first time in more than 40 years, there will not be a NYSEF alumnus racing for the U.S. team in China.
The Lake Placid-based winter competition program has had a remarkable record of producing Olympians starting with Vicki Fleckenstein in the 1970s up through Weibrecht and Tommy Biesemeyer in 2018.
The only NYSEF alum in the field this time is Northwoods School and University of Vermont graduate Kevin Drury, a skier-cross racer who competes for Canada.
Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected]
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