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1:18.44 to glory

February 17, 2014 - Chris Knight
I was late getting to the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center for Sunday's men's super giant slalom. As I made my way to the photographer's stand near the finish line, Ted Ligety, wearing bib number nine, was on his way down the hill.

I didn't know what Andrew Weibrecht's start position was until I spotted Lake Placid photographer Nancie Battaglia near the fence.

"He's 29th," she told me.

Whew ... dodged a bullet there, given that Andrew was the only reason I was here.

I watched as Bode Miller blasted down the hill and put himself in the gold-medal position. He held it for nine more racers, until Kjetil Jansrud of Norway dislodged him to second place. The next man down was Canada's Jan Hudec, who tied Miller's time, giving them both a share of the silver-medal spot, for now.

Then I waited for what seemed like forever for Andrew's run. As number 29 finally came up, I felt both excited and nervous for him.

When he burst out of the start and carved around the first two gates, you could feel his energy. I could tell he was charging hard, but no one would know anything until we saw the first split time.

Watching on the Jumbotron, each racer's intervals are posted above their overall time. If a racer's split is better than the current leader's split, the difference in time is posted with a minus sign in a green box. If the racer is behind the pace, the difference shows up with a plus time in a red box.

Andrew's first split came up. A green box. Minus 0.35. There's a rustling in the crowd. I looked down at Nancie.

"Here we go," I said to her.

About 20 seconds later, the second split time comes up. Green box. Minus 0.33. The crowd stirs again. I could feel myself trembling.

Andrew keeps hitting the gates hard, carving tight lines. As he cuts back against the fall line, his skis chatter against the icy surface.

"Hold on Andrew! Hold on!" I say, talking out loud now. As a journalist, I'm probably not supposed to be cheering, but screw it.

Third split time. Another green box! Minus 0.20. The crowd is roaring now. Cowbells are rattling. Americans are yelling, "Come on, Andrew!"

"This is it Nance! Do you believe it?!"

"I just hope he can hold on till the finish," Nancie says.

"Hold it together Andrew!" I shout.

We both turn away from the Jumbotron and point our cameras at the top of the hill, where Andrew comes into view. There's a tricky spot here where you come off a jump and have to make a hard right turn. Several other racers have crashed or lost their balance here.

Weibrecht lands it and carves it perfectly, smashes through the last two gates and crosses the finish line. I'm just holding down the button on my Nikon D7100, rattling off shot after shot, following him through to the out run.

The crowd is cheering wildly, but I haven't looked up at the scoreboard yet to see his finish time. Finally, I take a peek.

There's a big number "2" in a red box.

Silver, not gold. Who cares?

"He did it!" I shout. "Unbelievable!"

I point the camera back to Andrew. He bends over and holds his head in his gloved hands. I can only guess what's going through his mind. Pure joy. Pure exhilaration. Four years of struggle and hard work, rewarded with Olympic glory in a minute and 18.44 seconds.

There's plenty more I could say about what happened in the next hour: Sandy Caligiore at the finish line on the phone with the night auditor at the Mirror Lake Inn, trying to track down Weibrecht's parents; exchanging the best high five ever with my friend, chief U.S. alpine press officer Doug Haney; veteran alpine ski racing journalist John Meyer calling this "the most shocking day" in his career; Reporters asking U.S. alpine team head coach Sasha Rearick ten questions about Weibrecht and just one about Bode Miller.

But the only other thing really worth adding is this. Earlier, on the bus ride up to Rosa Khutor, I had written down some questions that I thought I would ask Andrew after the race. As I stood there at the finish line after his silver-medal run, waiting with a throng of journalists to speak with him, I realized all the questions were written as if he finished off the podium, somewhere back in the field. Having not seen him do much in the last few years, I was guilty of counting Andrew out. I wasn't the only one.

He proved me and plenty of other people wrong on Sunday, and I couldn't be happier about it.

I ripped that page of questions out of my notebook, crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

 
 

 

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