KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Before the Olympic medals, many people knew the video long before they knew Andrew Weibrecht.
When the video made the rounds in the skiing community, audiences were glued to a then-21-year-old Weibrecht plunging down a daunting Birds of Prey downhill course in Beaver Creek, Colo. It was two styles intersecting – fast and focused, insane and out of control. This wasn't skiing so much as picking a fight with physics.
Weibrecht's body twisted. His poles flailed. He came off one jump wobbling, then finished on one ski. But he was blazing, too. When it was over, Weibrecht had exploded from his 53rd position in the starting order to a 10th-place finish. And at the bottom of the run, the crowd came unhinged.
"He's built like a wombat," one coach said to Sasha Rearick, the head of U.S. men's skiing. It would be the first of many nicknames, and the first of many insane races for Weibrecht. And eventually, the first seeds of a barreling style that delivered him two Olympic medals, including a stunning silver in Sunday's super-G. Despite starting 29th and having only a faint medal hope as the course slowed in the Sochi sun, Weibrecht blazed ahead of the time posted by eventual gold-medal winner Kjetil Jansrud, winning the first three splits but ultimately settling for a very satisfying silver.
"This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing I've ever had," Weibrecht said. "There's only so many times that you can get kicked before you start to really feel it. I try not to focus on results, but I really needed a result to remind me that I'm capable of this and that I belong here."
Before Sunday, it had been four years and countless injuries since Weibrecht was on a podium. The last time? The 2010 Vancouver Games, when he captured a bronze in the super-G and appeared to be ready to become a major asset in the Alpine program. At the time, it appeared his no-holds-barred aggression could be properly channeled, his fearless nature would deliver him many skiing podiums.
But even then, Weibrecht was known for having an edge that cut two ways. He was fearless, but he also crashed. He was aggressive but reckless. He was fast but sometimes too fast. Dubbed "War Horse" by a teammate for the way he relentlessly assaulted the mountain, Weibrecht or the run was going to get punished on a given day, common wisdom went.
After he seized bronze in 2010, the punishment mostly went against Weibrecht. He blew out his right shoulder one month after those Games. He tore anterior ligaments in his left ankle. He tore a labrum in his left shoulder in 2011. Three days after coming back from that, he tore all three lateral ligaments in his left ankle. One surgery eventually became four. This is how Weibrecht went four years without a podium – and even lost his sponsorship at one point.
Yet, when the starting order for Sunday's super-G filtered to the 29th spot, and Weibrecht stepped into his starting position, those who knew his raw ability also knew something special could happen. Bode Miller, who was tied for silver with Canada's Jan Hudec, looked up at Weibrecht on the video board and said, "There's a good chance he wins this run right now."
Jansrud looked over to Miller and nodded.
"You're not kidding," he said.
Weibrecht came out charging and for three splits had the gold medal in his pocket. He was ultimately slowed at the base of the hill by snow that had gone soft since the start of the event. Still, he was sharp enough to get silver – one day after considering whether he wanted to continue in U.S. skiing without the results he craved.
"There's been times where … I've had to evaluate whether this is really what I want to do, even as recently as yesterday," Weibrecht said.
Now? He's on a track that turns the clock back four years – healthy, fast and, hopefully, a little smarter.
"He's so much better than his results show on World Cup," Miller said. "He's one of the guys who could consistently win in three events. …The one thing he sort of loses out on is the intensity. You put him in a big game, that's why he does so well at the Olympics. Everybody is focused on him, he has tons of emotion, and he kind of lets his emotion out.
"He's usually really pretty reserved emotionally. He doesn't connect skiing with emotion. He just skis with huge intensity normally. And I think here he really connects the emotion to it, and I think that's why he gets such crazy performances out of himself."