ARUN RATH, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.
At the Winter Olympics this morning in Sochi, American ski racer Andrew Weibrecht shocked the world by claiming a silver medal in the super-G alpine race. What's amazing about his silver medal finish today is that Weibrecht is a downhill skier who can't seem to win anyplace except the Olympics. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the story.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The truth about Andrew Weibrecht is that four years ago in Vancouver, nobody expected him to reach the podium.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Come on, Andrew Weibrecht, come on.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
MANN: Weibrecht doesn't look like a classic downhill skier. He's shorter, stockier. But he knocked out one amazing run in Vancouver that boosted him to a bronze medal. It was a beautiful moment, lightning fast. But after the last Olympics, American alpine ski coach Sasha Rearick watched Weibrecht fade away.
SASHA REARICK: The very next race, he hurt his shoulder, had to get surgery on that season, so he missed the next season - has struggled in downhill.
MANN: Over the four years that followed on the World Cup circuit, Weibrecht won exactly nothing. He struggled with his health, fighting a mysterious, lingering illness. He had problems with his equipment. And for a time, he was dropped down to America's B-team, which meant he had to pay for his own travel and expenses. When I met with Weibrecht in Lake Placid just before Sochi, it wasn't even clear that he would make the Olympic team. He sounded bummed.
ANDREW WEIBRECHT: There's, you know, times where it's not as much fun. Being sick for a month in Europe wasn't that much fun. You know, I think the good times outweigh the bad times.
MANN: Before arriving at Sochi, Weibrecht, who's 28 years old, retreated to Austria for some final, focused training. But there was still no sign that he had any shot at another medal. He showed up in Russia late, withdrawing from one event. Then in his first alpine race last week, he wiped out, sprawling flat on his belly.
WEIBRECHT: I just kind of hooked my tip on a gate and then I was sliding super quick. All of a sudden, I was in, and then I was out.
MANN: That moment seemed symbolic of a one-hit-wonder career destined to end with a whimper rather than a bang. On his own Facebook page, Weibrecht himself seemed resigned, calling his bronze-medal run four years ago his last great race. Then on the super-G slope this morning in Sochi, Weibrecht seemed to wake up, slicing a line that was very close to technically perfect. Here he is speaking right after claiming the silver.
WEIBRECHT: This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing I've ever had. All the issues and troubles that I've had, to come and be able to have a really strong result like this, you know, just kind of dealing through all the hard times, you know, that's all worth it and it all makes sense.
MANN: Standing in a scrum of reporters, the U.S. coach, Sasha Rearick, seemed as flabbergasted as anyone to have Andrew Weibrecht standing on that podium - having won medals two Olympics in a row.
REARICK: There was a coach from another team that said like he's build like a wombat. And I just was like, well, let's let that wombat out of his cage - and I haven't seen him out of the cage in a long time.
MANN: A big celebration is planned here in Lake Placid tonight with a parade to follow when Andrew Weibrecht arrives home from Sochi. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Lake Placid, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.