The Weibrecht Effect: Who’s it going to be?
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Who’s going to be the next Andrew Weibrecht at Birds of Prey?
The phenomenon of home snow always benefits the home team, so the spotlight naturally turns to Bode Miller ” though he’s skiing independently from his national team ” and fellow Americans Ted Ligety and Steve Nyman as the races begin today with the super combined at 11 a.m.
Yet Beaver Creek always seems to turn out a special American performance, dating back to the 1999 World Championships and Chad Fleischer finishing an unexpected sixth in the super-G.
Last year, it was Weibrecht, then 21, running in bib No. 53, having the best run of his career to date, finishing a stunning 10th. The Lake Placid, N.Y., native isn’t the only one of the U.S. Ski Team who’s had a breakout here.
– Nyman ” 2006, third in the downhill.
– Ligety ” 2005, third in the slalom.
– Marco Sullivan ” 2002, sixth in the downhill.
– Bryon Friedman ” 2004, sixth in the downhill.
– Scott Macartney, 2006, eighth in the downhill.
Some of these moments have arguably launched careers. Others serve as reminders to Americans continuing to chase their dreams on the slopes.
So who’s it going to be this year?
“There a bunch of guys on the speed side, for sure, that have the potential,” Weibrecht said Wednesday. “We’ve got guys like Erik Fisher, Kevin Francis and Jeremy Transue, who are all pushing hard and want those spots. They’ve definitely worked hard.
“I’m still trying to break through and hold it.”
Don’t bring it up
Macartney is understandably tired of being asked about Kitzbuehel, Austria, last year. He had quite the crash, and that’s been pretty much the only question he’s received this week.
“I’m moving on from that mentally because physically I’m fine,” he said. “I’m putting it behind me.”
While American racers don’t have extra training at Birds of Prey, Macartney brings up a good point about experience on this hill ” forerunning. He was a forerunner on the Birds of Prey course before the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships.
“Personally, I’ve been spending a lot of time on this course every year for almost 10 years now,” Macartney said. “That gives our younger guys a shot at this course, even during fore-running. So you build it up even when you’re outside of the World Cup races.”
It’s this sort of experience that he hopes translates into a podiums like he had in Val Gardena, Italy in 2007 and Garmisch, Germany, in 2006.
Winning breeds winning
Sullivan, like Macartney, has seen his share of injuries, missing two years from 2003-05. The 28-year-old has doggedly persevered and the result was his best season in 2007-08, which included his first World Cup win in Chamonix, France.
“Before I won that race, I didn’t know if my best day could win a World Cup,” Sullivan said. “Maybe it was top five. Now I know if I have a great day, I could possibly win, and at least be on the podium. So that brings a ton of confidence to stand in the starting gate and know that’s a possibility.”
And Sullivan is already off to a great start this season with points in both speed races up in Lake Louise, Alberta, finishing 23rd in downhill and fifth in super-G.
T.J. Lanning’s learned a lot from Sullivan. Charging down the hill with reckless abandon is good to a point. One needs an edge. Going over it is dangerous as was the case in the 2006 Birds of Prey for Lanning.
“The way I went into the net two years ago proves that I thought I could do anything,” he said matter-of-factly Wednesday.
Lanning’s starting to get the feel. He won the downhill at Nationals last spring and took ninth in the Lake Louise downhill.
“I’ve learned a lot by watching guys like Marco with whom I have a lot in common in terms of love for skiing and just being a little more laid-back about things,” Lanning said. “Watching his success develop over the last couple of years had taught me a lot. He used to just go for it and he’s learned a lot and he probably wishes he learned a lot earlier as I do.”
And then there’s Weibrecht, who certainly would like to be “this year’s Weibrecht.”
As would be expected from a kid who got his first taste of success just before turning 22, Weibrecht ended up with a bunch of DNFs on the World Cup after his incredible downhill run in Beaver Creek. While he hasn’t repeated his success at Birds of Prey, there have been good moments at Nationals, Nor-Am races and on the Eurpoa Cup.
“Andrew Weibrecht is a tremendously hard worker, a tremendous talent,” American men’s alpine coach Sasha Rearick said. “Last year, what he did here was pure balls. He’s actually learned how to ski better. Now if we can put the two together, we’ll have a really fast cat.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.