Four women won all five of the gold medals that U.S. athletes took home from the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville. Three of these women will be in Lillehammer to defend their Olympic titles—including speed skater Bonnie Blair and short-track skater Cathy Turner. But the return of mogul skier Donna Weinbrecht is particularly surprising.
Until Nov. 17, 1992, Weinbrecht was the best female ever to maneuver her way over the monstrous humps of a moguls course. She won three straight World Cup titles (1990-92) and was U.S. champion five years in a row (1988-92). She was world champion in 1991 and won the Olympic gold in a blizzard on the French Alps. The New Jersey native was the Queen of the Bumps, a go-getter who knew no fear. "You have to grab the bull by the horns and go for it," she was fond of saying.
But on that November day the bull turned on her. In Breckenridge, Colo., while practicing a difficult new trick called the Daffy twister, Weinbrecht landed awkwardly, with her knees locked and hyperextended. Jeff Good, the U.S. moguls coach, who was watching, recalls, "She went on to the next bump and fell, screaming, 'My knee!' "
Weinbrecht was sent to Richard Steadman, an orthopedic surgeon in Vail, Colo. His examination revealed that Weinbrecht had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a ruptured lateral meniscus cartilage in her right knee, as well as a fracture in the right tibial plateau. Weinbrecht thought her career was over, but after undergoing a 3½-hour operation, she began rigorous rehabilitation. She missed the '92-93 World Cup season and didn't get back on skis until eight months ago.
Last Saturday in Breckenridge, wearing a brace made of carbon titanium, the 28-year-old Weinbrecht won her fourth straight World Cup event on the very slope where she had been injured. Healthy again, Weinbrecht is focusing on new challenges—a big change from how she felt two years ago. "After the Olympics, there were two World Cups in Japan," she says, "and I had no desire to ski them. I had already done what everybody dreams of. So I saw the injury in a positive sense. Before it happened, I couldn't see the good in what I was doing, because I was such a perfectionist. After the injury I wanted to ski like that again. I didn't want to retire without knowing whether I could make another Olympic team."
"Donna is good at visual training and can trust her instincts," says Good. "She is very aware of what her body tells her on a course. When she injured herself, she hadn't been skiing enough and wasn't focused. When she tried that trick, she didn't have a good picture in her head."
Yes, there is still the unfinished business of the Daffy twister. Weinbrecht is practicing it again so she can add difficulty to her run, but she probably won't need it to win another gold. "It's a personal thing," says Good. "When the horse throws you off, you have to get back on."
Not the horse, Jeff. The bull.