The Sochi Games had not been kind to the U.S. men's Alpine skiing team, but a couple of Vancouver medalists came to the rescue Sunday in the super-G.
One of them, bronze medalist Bode Miller, you're likely familiar with. This was Miller's sixth Olympic medal, further increasing his lead as the most decorated American Alpine skier on the Olympic stage.
The other, silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht, you might have forgotten about. If so, that's OK. The 28-year-old hasn't done much worth remembering since becoming a surprise bronze medalist in the super-G in Vancouver.
Together, the pair of opposites brought some shine back to an Alpine team that had been struggling in Sochi and, most importantly, capped off equally harrowing journeys from podium to podium.
Weibrecht is, without a doubt, the unlikeliest of medalists. Few expected him to be in Sochi at all. Nobody expected him to win a silver.
While all of the U.S. attention was on Miller and Ted Ligety—who was a medal favorite in the super-G but finished a disappointing 14th—Weibrecht was so under the radar he was practically invisible.
It wasn't quite the media's fault that he wasn't getting any attention either. As Nick Zaccardi of NBC's OlympicTalk pointed out, his resume is fairly light:
The past few years have been particularly rough for Weibrecht, who stands at only 5'6" and is known for his ferocious but never consistent skiing.
Many would have given up after all of that, content with a bronze from 2010. Not Weibrecht.
He wrote grants to get extra funding, rehabbed endlessly and rounded back into form just in time to make the Sochi team. That accomplishment alone meant everything.
After being named to the U.S. Alpine team, he expressed his gratitude on his Facebook page: "So it's been about four years since my last 'great race' and I've been through a lot since then so this means a lot. better days to come."
That better day happened to be Sunday.
Coming from the unenviable 29th position, Weibrecht skied a fast, aggressive and virtually flawless line down the course to take the silver medal, just three-tenths of a second behind Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who won gold.
"It's been a rough couple of years," Weibrecht told the press after his race, via USA Today's David Leon Moore. "This makes up for it."
Sharing the podium with Weibrecht was another aggressive skier, the legendary Miller. Miller began these Games with high hopes to add to his medal count in his fifth Olympics, but after disappointing finishes in the downhill and super combined, things weren't looking promising.
But unlike at times in the past, Miller didn't let his frustrations get the best of him. He skied an imperfect but assertive race and ended up tied for the bronze with Jan Hudec of Canada.
After the race, the normally nonchalant Miller was in tears. This bronze was significant.
Unlike Weibrecht, 36-year-old Miller has 33 World Cup victories and is the face of U.S. Alpine skiing. With the spotlight always on him, both his successes and failures on and off the slopes generate headlines.
But like Weibrecht, the last four years have been a brutal journey for Miller, and it was clear that this medal perhaps meant more to him than the rest.
He reflected on this medal's importance to the press after the race, per Moore:
If it's not the most important race of my life, it's right there with it. I had a lot to show today. I always feel like I'm capable of winning medals. But as you've seen in these Olympics, it's not that easy. On a given day, there are so many guys.
To be on the podium, this is a really big day for me. Emotionally, I had a lot riding on it. Even though I didn't ski my best — a lot of mistakes — I'm just super, super happy.
Miller has good reason to be happy after all he's been through. Since Vancouver, his personal life has been in the headlines with a very public custody battle with an ex-girlfriend and the devastating news of his wife Morgan Beck Miller's miscarriage.
He also had an intensive knee surgery in 2012 that took him off the slopes for a year, and many believed it would end his career.
But as his tears poured out at the bottom of the super-G course Sunday, his thoughts were with his brother, Chelone, who passed away last year. Chelone, 29, was a professional snowboarder who was aiming to make the Sochi team as well.
That's the thing about the Olympics—it's always about so much more than just the race.
With Weibrecht and Miller's emotional triumphs, Sochi headlines that had been focused on the failures of the men's U.S. Alpine skiers can finally be put to rest.
Miller will be back on the slopes in Sochi later in the week to compete in the slalom and giant slalom, but given that he is more a speed specialist than a technician, it would be a surprise if he medaled in either of those.
Ligety will be favored in the giant slalom, where he will be trying to turn around his Olympic Games, hopefully spurred on by his teammates' success.
Weibrecht, with his silver in hand, is likely done competing in Sochi, but he can surely leave the Games with his head held high.
Both Miller and Weibrecht are different men than they were the last time they shared the podium together in Vancouver. They've skied through a lot and lived through more, but their trials and tribulations make their medals that much more meaningful.
Sunday was a great day for the U.S. Alpine team in Sochi, and it was a big victory for the perseverance of the human spirit.
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