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Bode Miller, Andrew Weibrecht boost U.S. ski medal fortunes

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — This medal mattered to Bode Miller.

Not so much because, at 36, his bronze in Sunday's super-G — behind winner Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and surprise runnerup Andrew Weibrecht of the United States — makes Miller the oldest Alpine skiing medalist in Olympic history. Or even because he now owns six medals in all, the second-highest total for a male ski racer and tied for second with long-track speed skater Bonnie Blair among U.S. Winter Olympians in any sport. (Short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno has eight.)

The guy who for years insisted results didn't mean much to him declared he actually did care about this one.

The past year has been difficult for Miller: His younger brother, Chelone, died in April 2013. He had a court fight over custody of his infant son. He had to work hard to come back from left knee surgery to return to the Alpine apex.

"It's almost therapeutic for me to be in these situations, where I really had to test myself, so I was happy to have it be on the right side of the hundredths," Miller said. "Some days … medals don't matter, and today was one of the ones where it does."

He wiped away tears in the finish area after someone mentioned Chelone, a charismatic snowboarder who was 29 and hoping to make the U.S. team in Sochi when he died of what was believed to be a seizure.

"Everything felt pretty raw and pretty connected," Miller said, "so it was a lot for me."

Weibrecht couldn't help but be moved by his own journey, calling Sunday "probably the most emotional day of ski racing that I've ever had."

It also was an important day for the U.S. ski team. It had collected only one of the 15 medals awarded through the first five Alpine events before Weibrecht and Miller tripled their nation's total in one fell swoop.

Through 28 starters Sunday, Miller and Jan Hudec of Canada were tied for second, about a half-second slower than Jans­rud's run of 1 minute, 18.14 seconds. But then came the 29th racer, Weibrecht, who had come out of nowhere to win the super-G bronze behind Miller's silver at the 2010 Olympics but since then has dealt with injury after injury, including both shoulders and both ankles.

Weibrecht, 28, has had four operations in the past four years. Because he was hurt so often, he was dropped at one point from the U.S. Ski Team's "A" roster to its "B" team. That meant he had to pay his own way. He learned how to write grant proposals to keep racing.

Weibrecht had only one top 10 finish in 95 World Cup races the past four years (and has just two for his career).

"I've had to evaluate whether this is really what I want to do. Even," Weibrecht said, then paused before adding, "as recently as (Saturday)."

He laughed at his own punch line.

"All kidding aside," Weibrecht said later, "it's been a pretty difficult four years. … I didn't know how many more beat-downs I could take before I can take something positive."

When he found out he would be starting No. 29, he figured the snow would have deteriorated by then and he was "bummed." But Weibrecht, nicknamed "War Horse," charged down the mountain and finished three-tenths of a second behind Jansrud and two-tenths ahead of Miller and Hudec, whose bronze is Canada's first Alpine medal in 20 years.

"It's unbelievable," said Weibrecht, who became the fourth American male (Miller, Phil Mahre and Tommy Moe) with at least two Olympic Alpine medals.

Miller said he is unsure whether he will continue racing after the Games but believes he is skiing as well as ever. "Maybe I just have a bad short-term memory," he said, "but I keep convincing myself I'm invincible even though I'm ancient."

Bode Miller, Andrew Weibrecht boost U.S. ski medal fortunes 02/16/14 [Last modified: Sunday, February 16, 2014 11:45pm]
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