Andrew Weibrecht’s silver medal in Sunday’s super-G may have caught some people by surprise, but Jay Rand was not among them.
The executive director of the New York Ski Educational Foundation saw how hard the Lake Placid native trained last year and knew his determination wasn’t fleeting. He saw Weibrecht — his 28-year-old son-in-law — fight through one injury after another, only to make the U.S. Olympic Alpine team as its only representative from New York.
“When you’re competing against that field, you’ve got to put it all together,” Rand said. “And he did.”
Through 28 starters Sunday, U.S. Olympic legend Bode Miller and Jan Hudec of Canada were tied for second place, about a half-second slower than Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud’s run of 1 minute, 18.14 seconds. Then came the 29th racer —Weibrecht, a skier born and raised in Lake Placid.
Four years ago, Weibrecht shocked crowds at the Olympics in Vancouver by finishing behind Miller for the bronze. Only the promise he showed in 2010 was beset by one bad injury after another; both shoulders and both ankles ailed him in the run up to the 2014 games.
“I’ve had to evaluate whether this is really what I want to do. Even,” Weibrecht said, then paused before adding, “as recently as yesterday.”
He laughed at his own punch line.
“All kidding aside,” Weibrecht said later, rubbing his left temple, “it’s been a pretty difficult four years. It’s kind of one of those things that 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 more beatdowns I could take.”
His hometown fans never had any doubt. Many in Lake Placid stayed up late to watch Weibrecht’s race live, perhaps sensing he was poised to do something great.
“We kind of had a feeling he could do something special in the super-G,” said Jon Lundin, a spokesman for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. “We know he can put it together on any given day and be one of the best skiers in the field.”
Charging with abandon — his nickname is “War Horse” — Weibrecht dominated the top of the course, then held on to nudge into second, 0.30 seconds behind Jansrud and 0.23 ahead of both Miller and Hudec, whose bronze is Canada’s first Alpine medal in 20 years.
That Weibrecht pulled it off did not shock U.S. coaches or teammate Ted Ligety, the super-G world champion who was 14th. Weibrecht, who called the win “probably the most emotional day of ski racing that I’ve ever had,” credited a recent day of giant slalom practice in Austria alongside Ligety with helping him carry speed.
Being quick has never been a problem for the 5-foot-6 Weibrecht. Mid-race errors usually set him back. Just last week, Ligety called Weibrecht “the fastest skier in the world for 20 seconds in every single event.”
And how stunning was this silver? In 95 World Cup races, Weibrecht never finished better than 10th.
Yet he now owns two Olympic medals. Weibrecht’s 2010 bronze hangs in the lobby of the Mirror Lake Inn, his parents’ hotel in Lake Placid. In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday — there’s a nine-hour time difference between New York and Sochi — Weibrecht’s father, Ed, followed along at home.
“He had some really bad experiences,” Ed said “It’s been a struggle for him to come back, but he never wavered from that goal.”
Weibrecht comes from a line of strong athletes. His mother, Lisa, was a luge racer. She competed in this country and in Europe, winning the U.S. National luge title in 1978. His grandfather, Hal Clune, was a standout Scotia High School football player during late 1940s.
His mother grew up in Scotia and moved to Lake Placid in 1976. She became one of the first women to take up luge racing in the United States.
Weibrecht’s performance in Sochi also highlights the success of the state development authority and educational foundation to cultivate Olympic medalists. Among the U.S. athletes competing in the games, 41 percent either trained or competed at Lake Placid in 2013. Weibrecht started skiing at 6 years old on Whiteface Mountain, which is operated by ORDA.
“We’re taking a lot of pride in the athletes who train in Lake Placid,” Lundin said. “It just speaks to the program that’s in place.”
The educational foundation sent nine alumni to Sochi, including Weibrecht. Rand expressed pride in Weibrecht and said he believes he’ll continue to achieve at the Olympic level.
“He got the bronze and he got the silver,” he said. “Now he’s going for the the gold.”