- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) Snowboarder Chris Klug's unbelievable comeback from liver transplant surgery reached a stunning crescendo yesterday 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, the most ever at the Winter Games by the United States, which earned 13 in 1998.
"That's pretty cool," Klug said. "I'm glad I could help."
Another amazing twist: Klug won his final heat of the day against Nicolas Huet of France despite having to use duct tape to repair a boot buckle that broke on his first of two races.
"I had to put it out of my mind," Klug said. "I figured if a boot buckle is going to decide whether I get third or fourth, then to [heck] with it."
Philipp Schoch of Switzerland, the second-slowest rider in qualifying yesterday, 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. Blanc dedicated her victory to Regine Cavagnoud, the French Alpine star who died last October when she slammed into a German ski trainer during a practice run.
After winning his bronze, Klug hit his fist against his heart, then pointed over 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 his supporters. Tears flowed, 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 out of 16 finalists. 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 Huet for the bronze.
Klug won the first heat by .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," said his father, Warren. "So grateful."
Klug was the only American man to qualify for the finals.
The only American woman was Lisa Kosglow, who lost to Ruby in the quarterfinals and finished eighth. She, too, was caught up in Klug's success story.
"It's amazing," Kosglow said. "Chris has been through a lot. What he's overcome, just to be alive right now is amazing."
The 29-year-old Klug's victory came the day after National Organ Donor Day, and the Olympics were the perfect platform for him to send his message.
In 1993, Klug was diagnosed with the rare disease primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disorder that slowly eats away at the bile ducts' ability to function.
It was the same disease that killed Walter Payton.
Klug didn't feel the effects of the disease for a long time, but early in 2000 he began feeling sharp pains in his side. His condition had worsened, and he moved up the donor's list.
His donor was a 13-year-old boy from the Denver area who had been accidentally shot in the head by a neighbor playing with a gun.
By choosing to donate their son's organs, the boy's parents saved Klug's life.
It's a debt he knows he can never repay, but he said he hoped his success in the snowboarding world would help get the word out about organ transplants.


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