Will the Warhorse Pull Ahead?

Andrew Weibrecht has been the dark horse of the World Cup circuit—but as his silver at Kitzbühel today shows, that might be changing

Andrew Weibrecht dominates in today’s super-G at the Hahnenkamm, Kitzbuehl. PHOTO: KSC

There were two big surprises out of Kitzbühel, Austria, today: First, hearing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, play on the Hahnenkamm after three French racers swept the podium in the super-combined. Second, seeing an American grab silver—sandwiched between Norwegian giant Aksel Lund Svindal and Austrian favorite Hannes Reichelt—in a tricky, technical super-G.

And that American wasn’t speed demon Travis Ganong or technical master Ted Ligety. It was Andrew Weibrecht, the Lake Placid native whose specialty is surprises.

“This is the one thing that, growing up, we all thought about: getting a medal in Kitzbuehl,” —Andrew Weibrecht

He’s known as the “Warhorse” for his aggressive, attacking style. But in the past, he’s also been known as the dark horse.

Take Sochi. Before that, things weren’t looking good for Weibrecht. After injuring both shoulders, he had struggled to mount a comeback, not placing above 18th on the World Cup circuit in the 2012-13 season and clinching only a single top-10 spot in 2013-14. Ahead of Sochi, he almost lost funding—and a place on the U.S. Olympic team. He later said he’d been considering retirement. At the Games, he DNF’ed in the downhill, then in the super combined.

Two days later, he started the super-G in position 29. He clinched silver, knocking teammate Bode Miller to bronze in the process.

It wasn’t Weibrecht’s first upset. In 2010, a season in which he hadn’t gotten on the podium in a World Cup race, he grabbed the bronze medal in the Olympic super-G.

Surprising people, after all, is Weibrecht’s style. One of the U.S. Ski Team’s few East Coasters—he grew up honing his skills on the icy slopes of Whiteface, New York—he’s especially surprised fans with his comebacks from injury. Even for a sport as accident-prone as ski racing, he’s had “more body work done than a rent-a-wreck,” as the LA Times pithily put it in 2014.

But this season may be the last that anyone can say they’re surprised to see him on a podium. After all, it’s not just today’s results. Weibrecht clinched bronze in the super-G at Beaver Creek in December, plus two near-misses on his resume—he was fifth at the Birds of Prey downhill and fifth in the super-G at Val Gardena. His overall super-G points now put him in second place, above major players Kjetil Jansrud, Dominik Paris, and Aleksander Kilde.

Weibrecht is still far from a shoe-in for more podiums. His results need to become more consistent. But today’s run showed just how good he can be, especially on a course that threw so many others. The set was as technical as expected, with fallaways and several turns so tough that 26 of the 89 starting racers didn’t finish. Those who DNF’ed included no fewer than four of Weibrecht’s teammates: Travis Ganong, Ted Ligety, Jared Goldberg, and Marco Sullivan.

Weibrecht, though, kept it clean and aggressive. Where other guys got too wide or late and were tossed out by the course, particularly at the top and then again just a couple of turns from the finish, he managed to hold onto his line. Hitting a top speed of 83mph, he plunged down the 1772-foot vertical drop in 1:12:10, finishing just 0.31 seconds behind Svindal.

“This is the one thing that, growing up, we all thought about: getting a medal in Kitzbuehl,” Weibrecht said in the finish. “I’ve really been trying to keep it simple, and keep things running down the hill.”

And, today at least, he’s succeeded. If things keep going Weibrecht’s way, ski fans might have to stop being surprised to see him on the podium with guys like Svindal and Reichelt. Not bad for a guy who had said he was considering retirement just two years ago.