For us, the most purely thrilling moment of these Olympic Winter Games has to be Andrew Weibrecht's thundering charge down the slope of Rosa Khutor to win a silver medal in the super-giant slalom event. We're no Alpine ski experts, but even we could notice that the Lake Placid "Warhorse" simply attacked the hill harder than the other skiers. It required fearlessness and incredible skill to navigate that do-or-die plunge without making any major mistakes. It was a thing of beauty, and just three-tenths of a second away from the gold medal.
It was also a mind-boggling shock. It had been a stunner when Andrew won bronze in that event at the last Olympics, but he was young, and we figured, well, it looks like he's ready to step into the sport's top tier. But he didn't. His last four years were loaded with injuries, four surgeries, ailments, doubts and World Cup finishes in 20-something place. At one point the U.S. Ski Team stopped paying his travel expenses, and he barely made this year's Olympic team. Now he's 27, middle-age by Alpine standards.
This new Olympic medal, therefore, was even more surprising than the last. Logic seemed to be so against him. What were the odds of his capturing a second Olympic medal when he's never finished better than 10th in seven years of World Cup races - compared with, say, the odds in 1980 that the U.S. men's hockey team would topple the mighty Soviets?
Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid gets airborne in his silver medal-winning run in the men’s super-G Feb. 16.
(AP photo — Charlie Riedel)
Like the Miracle on Ice, Andrew's "miracle on snow" (to quote last week's Lake Placid News headline) was an inspiration to people who toil on and on, through pain and doubt and disillusionment and lack of reward. His performance showed that sometimes, when it all counts, it really can all come together for the middle-of-the-pack, uncertain Cinderella who's paid as much dues as anyone and has the skill, but just hasn't had the luck - yet.
More than that, though, Andrew himself was an inspiration because of the humble, honest way he comported himself after winning the medal. He didn't let it go to his head, even after his teammates and coaches said they weren't surprised because they always knew Andrew was much better than his World Cup results showed. With all the world's media in his face right off the hill, he admitted that as recently as the day before, he had questioned whether he even belonged in this sport, in these Olympics.
That's because he's like most winter athletes: struggling even to make the Olympic team, often finishing back in 29th place, getting hurt and sick and trying to bounce back, unsure whether they belong. The stars whom TV networks, magazines and advertisers profile before the games are few, and many of them don't show anywhere near as thrilling a result as Andrew did. We're happy to root for them, too, but it's wonderful when an underdog wins from out of nowhere - especially when he's your local underdog.
Long before this result, though, Andrew was an inspiration to skiers at his alma mater, Northwood School. They told Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn that he has often showed up there to talk to them, even with his arm in a sling. He wasn't blowing smoke up their backsides. He was being realistic, and yet still encouraging. They cherished that.
We're proud to be able to say that all our homegrown Olympians are that way. Aside from being world-class athletes, they are world-class people who represent our area exceedingly well throughout the world and then come home and inspire our kids at schools, ski centers, learn-to-luge clinics and the like. They don't act like stars, who are usually guarded and cliched with the press; rather, they are willing to talk openly and honestly to share with all local readers the challenges and the wonders of their sports. We've only known them to be decent and upstanding and, well, real. They make us very proud, and thanks to them, we had a lot to cover in Sochi.
As the local newspaper, we make sure to cover these Olympians thoroughly no matter what place they finish, and on behalf of the entire Enterprise and Lake Placid News staff, we hereby congratulate them all. They keep putting one foot in front of the other, inspiring us all. And someday - as shown by remarkable finishes these games by Erin Hamlin, Lowell Bailey, Andrew Weibrecht, the men's and women's bobsled teams and the women's biathlon relay team - their dreams of higher success may come true. We hope so, and we hope we're there when they do.