A few weeks ago, Will Brandenburg e-mailed his friends to thank them for their support and tell them it didn’t look like he was going to live his lifelong dream.
Last week, his dream became reality when he was chosen to ski in the 2010 Winter Olympics as a discretionary selection.
Brandenburg, 23, a Mead High graduate and Schweitzer Alpine Racing School alumnus, overcame knee surgery and a late start this season to beat the odds. He will represent the United States competing in the super combined at Whistler, British Columbia, on Feb. 16.
“Will was chosen based on the hard work he’s put in after coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him last season,” said Doug Haney, Alpine Press Office for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. “Part of the discretion is identifying those athletes who have potential for future success and Will certainly has that.”
Naturally, Brandenburg is confident that he has a chance.
“Coming back from my knee injury, the World Cup super combines didn’t fit into my schedule,” he said. “But I think I can be pretty good in the race at the Olympics. It’s the kind of event that suits me because I have a lot of speed in slalom, but I’m a very good speed event skier, too.”
Brandenburg’s knee problems began in August 2008 after sustaining a bone bruise in a training crash in New Zealand. He had another fall in December that year, compounding the injury.
“I was skiing very well at the time,” he said. “I was finally getting to a level where I wanted to be. I tried to push through it and just couldn’t. I couldn’t even walk after a race.”
Brandenburg had his right knee checked in mid-January 2009. The pain turned out to be meniscus damage and a microfracture. He had surgery and was on crutches for eight weeks. But the Olympics intensified his resolve.
“Oh, it was tough,” he said. “I couldn’t run or jump until July. All summer I was in the gym every day. I’ve never put more into it in my life, trying to get healthy, because I wasn’t just trying to get to the Olympics. I was trying to continue my career in ski racing.”
Brandenburg didn’t start running gates until October, but his hard work last summer paid off. In December he led a U.S. sweep of a NorAm Cup slalom in Panorama, B.C. Two weeks ago, he was runner-up in a Europa Cup slalom in Bansko, Bulgaria. He moved up from 11th place after the first run to win the second. Last weekend, after making the Olympic team, he skied a World Cup slalom at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. Monday he arrived in Park City, Utah, to train for his Olympic debut.
The super combined is a shortened downhill or a super-G run plus a run of slalom. The skier with the fastest aggregate time wins. Bode Miller won the most recent super combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last month. But expect the unexpected at the Olympics.
The 2009 men’s super combined World Cup was a free-for-all. Carlo Janka of Switzerland was the overall champion – mostly on nonmedal points. Only three World Cup venues were contested and no one was a medal repeater: Three golds, three silvers and three bronzes were all won by different racers.
At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Ted Ligety came roaring out of nowhere in the combined to become the first American man to win an Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing since Tommy Moe won the downhill in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway.
Who’s to say something like that won’t happen again?