Park City, UT, Feb. 15, 2002 (AP by Eddie Pells)– Snowboarder Chris Klug’s unbelievable comeback from liver transplant surgery reached a stunning crescendo Friday, when he won the bronze medal in the parallel giant slalom.
“This is the most fun day of my life,” said Klug, who only 19 months ago was in an operating room for the life-saving surgery.
Klug’s bronze gave the United States its 14th medal of the Winter Games, breaking the record last set in 1998.
Philipp Schoch of Switzerland, the second-slowest rider in qualifying Thursday, won the gold, defeating Sweden’s Richard Richardsson, who took silver.
Isabelle Blanc of France upset countrywoman and defending Olympic champion Karine Ruby to win the women’s gold medal. Lidia Trettel of Italy took the bronze.
After winning the bronze, Klug hit his fist against his heart, then pointed to his father, his girlfriend and the dozens of other overwhelmed friends and family who came to see him.
A few moments later, Klug scaled two retaining fences to share hugs with all his supporters. Tears flowed in some parts, but Klug just smiled, then headed back toward the finish line for the flower ceremony.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Klug’s girlfriend, Missy April. “Everything he’s done is a miracle.”
In a sport dominated by Europeans, Klug’s bronze was unexpected. He qualified 11th of 16 finalists on Thursday. In the quarterfinals of the elimination event, he trailed Italy’s Walter Feichter by a significant .75 seconds after the first of two races.
Needless to say, Klug never gave up.
He put down a smooth run and Feichter fell, giving the Aspen, Colo., resident a spot in the final four and a chance at a medal.
Klug lost in the semis to Schoch, placing him in a two-race contest against Nicolas Huet of France for the bronze.
Klug won the first heat by a scant .15 seconds, but won by a bigger margin in the second, and the bronze was his.
“I’m so thrilled to see Chris do well,” his father Warren said. “So grateful.”
Men’s Parallel Giant Slalom
February, 15, 2002, Park City, Utah
1. Philipp Schoch, SUI
2. Richard Richardsson, SWE
3. Chris Klug, USA
4. Nicolas Huet, FRA
5. Dejan Kosir, SLO
20. Jeff Greenwood, USA
27. Peter Thorndike, USA