Nyman, Weibrecht working their way back
BEAVER CREEK – It really wasn’t meant to go this way.
Both of these American racers had breakout performances at the Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek. Loaded with tremendous potential – one of the most dreaded words in sport – both looked like they had sterling futures ahead. They have had triumphs, and they have also seen their careers derailed by injury.
Steven Nyman, 30, and Andrew Weibrecht, 26, enter today’s downhill at 10:45 a.m. and Saturday’s super-G hoping to rebound from the inevitable perils of the sport.
Weibrecht has wrecked both of his shoulders, ending his 2009-10 and 201-11 seasons. For good measure, he had ankle surgery last spring. Nyman’s battled back injuries and his 2011-12 campaign ended before it even began – he tore his Achilles tendon in training on Copper Mountain.
Nyman even broke two ribs in his return to training at Copper last month.
“Google ‘Steven Nyman Copper crash,” Nyman said with his dry sense of humor after a training run this week.
Yep, the video comes up at the top of the page on the Internet.
Weibrecht and Nyman find themselves in an unusual place as they get ready for Birds of Prey – with high bib numbers. Having been out with injuries, they don’t have the World Cup points for the coveted top-30 spots on race days and training. They’re having to charge from the back.
It wasn’t always this way.
Nyman was ascendant as America’s best downhiller, Daron Rahlves, had retired. It seemed rather natural that the Nyman would be “the next great American downhiller.” He notched his first podium here at Beaver Creek during the 2006 Birds of Prey downhill with a third-place finish on a day when Bode Miller stood on the top step.
Two weeks later, Nyman won the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, and the following year here, he was second, 5-hundredths of a second behind Austria’s Michael Walchhofer.
Life was looking good.
Meanwhile, Weibrecht blew onto the scene here during the 2007 super-G. Racing from the 53rd bib, Weibrecht had one of the more wild rides one will ever see here, bursting into 10th place. In the spirit of Nyman’s Google joke, look up “Andrew Weibrecht Birds of Prey” and that race is still there.
Weibrecht has only two 10th-place finishes – his other was here in 2011 – but the Lake Placid, N.Y. native also owns a bronze medal in super-G from the 2010 Olympics. A month after that medal, Weibrecht did the first of two shoulders, and now is rehabbing his ankle.
“It takes more patience than I have. I have cheated a little bit,” Weibrecht said. “It’s a lot of work. It’s more work coming back from an injury than it is being in regular training. It puts you a little bit behind the eight-ball, missing three months of training because you can’t do stuff because of rehabbing. But you just have to make the best of it, do the best you can.”
Like his teammate, Nyman knows the feeling. It’s a long road back from a torn Achilles.
“It’s everything,” Nyman said of his torn tendon. “It supports your knee. It supports your ability to push off your toes and when you start to rehab that, you can’t even lift your heel off the ground. It’s mind-blowing. It’s ‘How am I ever going to get back?'”
Lots of non-glamorous work is the answer: Physical therapy, weights and mind-numbing exercise.
“I missed it a lot and I want to get back on tour and I want to get back in the top 30 and really push myself and do great things,” Nyman said. “I believe I can with the training I’ve had this summer. I just need to gain my confidence since the season goes on.”
Finding that confidence and the groove is a big task for both. Nyman and Weibrecht are not big fans of Lake Louise, Alberta, the first speed stop on the tour each year. After a in the downhill last weekend in Canada, Weibrecht was 19th in the super-G. Nyman was 40th in the downhill, out of the points.
Nyman was starting 46th, a start position which doesn’t help matters, and that makes this weekend critical. The Birds of Prey racecourse tends to hold up well for those in the back of the pack who want to make a change into the points (top-30). Throw in the fact that both have a high comfort level on this track, and these races are opportunities.
Weibrecht has had a good week of bib-jumping in training this week. He’s finished 26th, 20th and 26th, wearing either bib Nos. 67 or 68. Nyman looked like he finally laid one down Thursday, hopping from bib No. 45 down to 14th.
“Obviously ski racing is an unfair sport. The better guys, the earlier guys get better conditions,” Weibrecht said. “When you have the snow prepared like this, it’s as fair of a race as you can get from start to finish. The snow doesn’t change a whole lot from the first guy to the last guy. We’re pretty lucky to have that.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.