(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By PAT GRAHAMAP Sports Writer
Early in his career, Andrew Weibrecht constantly flirted with the line between foolhardy and fast on a downhill course.
The U.S. skier took chances few would even contemplate – besides Bode Miller, of course -for the sake of more and more speed.
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That aggressiveness eventually caught up to him. Since winning a surprise Olympic bronze medal four years ago in Vancouver, Weibrecht has blown out each ankle and gone through surgeries on both shoulders. He also lost his sponsorship from the U.S. Ski Team for lackluster results.
Finally healthy – not counting a recently bruised shin – the speed specialist nicknamed ”Warhorse” is ready to charge again in Beaver Creek. He’s hoping to show that he indeed deserves a spot on the team for the Sochi Games, and that he can possibly be a medal contender again.
”I’ve done everything to put myself in a position to really have the best year that I can imagine,” said Weibrecht, who’s from Lake Placid, N.Y., and has his medal on display there in his family’s hotel. ”I like to think that it means I can be back on the podium and be competitive in World Cup again. But I guess you never really know.”
Plenty has transpired for Weibrecht since that day in Whistler, British Columbia, when he finished behind Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Miller in the Olympic super-G. Some good (he got a dog), some great (he got married), some painful (those four surgeries) and some just a blow to his ego (his funding being cut).
He shrugged his surgically repaired shoulders when explaining his recent injury spell, chalking it up to simple bad luck. He had another round of it last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, when he fell in a race and severely bruised his shin.
”It’s really painful to be in a ski boot, especially to push through bumps,” Weibrecht said. ”But I’ll be OK.”
After all, he’s no stranger to dealing with pain. Here’s a look at his medical maladies since Vancouver:
– In 2010, he hurt his right shoulder and left ankle.
– In 2011, the left shoulder.
– In 2012, right ankle reconstruction.
– In the spring of 2013, an ankle scope to clean things out.
”I keep asking for a (surgery punch card),” the 27-year-old Weibrecht said, laughing. ”It’s been just a total pain. But it’s what happens, I guess. Most people go through it at one point or another. I was lucky for a lot of years, totally injury free, despite being really reckless.
”I kind of paid for it all at the same time. Hopefully, that’s behind me and I feel healthy and strong.”
Those ailments led him to slip from the ”A” squad to the ”B” team, meaning he had to pay for parts of his travel expenses. He rounded up sponsors, though, by learning the art of writing grant proposals, which has kept him racing on the circuit.
”I can’t complain about the funding, because it was relatively easy for me. I lucked out,” he said. ”Hopefully, I can move forward and forget about this little bump in the road.”
Now, he’s about to step onto a course he relishes. Beaver Creek is actually where he earned his hard-charging reputation.
Six years ago, Weibrecht started at position No. 53, with the course rutted and the snow falling. He attacked it with no worry about going into the safety net, teetering on the brink of a major wipeout all the way down the slope. He charged to 10th that day, which remains one of his best performances at a World Cup event.
He wants to bring that intensity to the course again this weekend.
And while the course has been altered – the men will be running sections of the new course built for the women in advance of the 2015 world championships – that hardly dampens his spirit.
”Should be really fun,” Weibrecht said. ”Because I feel great about my skiing.”
Notes: With the downhill training run canceled Tuesday because of travel issues with some teams, skiers such as Ted Ligety and Bode Miller squeezed in some giant slalom runs in nearby Copper Mountain. … Because of sketchy weather forecasts, race organizers have elected to switch the downhill and super-G races. The downhill will now be Friday and the super-G on Saturday.