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Buckling down

Transplant survivor Klug delivers unexpected bronze

Posted: Friday February 15, 2002 6:40 PM
Updated: Friday February 15, 2002 7:05 PM

 
PARK CITY, Utah -- At the time, it must have seemed like a sick joke. Moments before the most important run of his life, American snowboarder Chris Klug discovered that a buckle on his left boot was broken. He would race Frenchman Nicolas Huet for the bronze medal in the men's parallel giant slalom with duct tape on his boot.

Klug recalled the frazzled moments while he and his coach were working frantically to fix the boot. "I finally just said, ‘Forget it,'" he said. "If this thing is gonna work out, it's gonna work out. If not, so be it."

It worked out. After edging Huet by .15 seconds in the first of the two runs for the bronze, the 29-year-old from Aspen, Colo., routed his rival by more than a second in the final run -- jury-rigged boot buckle and all.

And why not? Klug knows a little thing about triumphing over equipment failure. Afflicted with the same rare, degenerative liver disease that killed Walter Payton, Klug spent seven years on a waiting list for a new liver. Eighteen months ago, his health deteriorating rapidly, he underwent a transplant. The operation gave him both a new lease on life and a powerful sense of mission: Klug is a passionate, articulate spokesman for the cause of organ transplantation. After qualifying for the finals of the PGS on Thursday (Feb. 14), Klug went out of his way to point out that Valentine's Day is also National Organ Donor Day.

"There are more than 80,000 people in this country on organ-donor lists," says Klug. "Sixteen people a day die waiting for a transplant." There was a time Klug feared he would be one of the 16.

Klug made a stunning recovery following his transplant: He was on the podium at a World Cup race in Canada five months later. On the WC circuit this season, he had struggled to get out of the quarterfinals. That pattern seemed certain to hold up Friday at the PGS hill at Park City Mountain Resort. In his first run against Italian Walter Feichter, Klug had to make two remarkable recoveries simply to finish .75 seconds behind his opponent. With victory starting him in his face, however, the Italian lost an edge in their second run and had an unscheduled rendez vous with the fence lining the course.

After losing his semifinal heat to eventual gold medalist Philipp Schoch of Switzerland, Klug moved to the so-called Small Final, where he triumphed over both Huet and his boot buckle.

"I think my brother understands long odds," said Jim Klug, 32, wiping tears from his eyes as his younger brother stood on the podium with Schoch and silver medalist Richard Richardsson of Sweden. "He's been there before."

Sports Illustrated senior writer Austin Murphy is in Utah covering the Olympics snowboarding competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes coverage from Salt Lake City.

 
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