Park City, Utah Feb. 15 2002 (AP by Eddie Pells)--Glad simply to be alive, let alone at the pinnacle of his sport, liver transplant survivor Chris Klug put a whole new twist on the notion of an Olympic miracle.
Using duct tape to bind together a broken boot buckle for his final race, Klug persevered and won the bronze medal Friday in parallel giant slalom snowboarding.
Philipp Schoch of Switzerland, the second-slowest rider in qualifying Thursday, won the gold, defeating Sweden's Richard Richardsson, who took silver.
Klug gave the United States its record 14th medal of the Winter Games, and pushed the story of his unbelievable comeback to a stunning crescendo.
``I thought I was going to die waiting,'' Klug said of the days before his liver donor was found 19 months ago.
``I was pretty scared,'' he said. ``I wasn't thinking about snowboarding , or coming back and winning a bronze medal. I was just thinking about hoping to live, hanging out with my family and continuing with life as I know it.''
In that sense, Klug's Olympic triumph was about more than sports. It was about the miracle of modern medicine, one family's generosity and the will to overcome adversity.
Leisa Flood, the mother who made the choice to donate her 13-year-old son's organs in July 2000, was overwhelmed when she heard of Klug's victory.
``I'm so grateful we were given the opportunity to help him,'' Flood said from her home in Idaho. ``It makes me feel good. They both won.''
Of course, such an improbable comeback story deserves an improbable ending, and Klug served that up, too.
During his first of two bronze-medal races against Nicolas Huet of France, the buckle on Klug's back boot snapped. He didn't have time to replace it between races, so he used some loose metal and duct tape from his repair kit to ``jerry-rig the thing up.''
At the starting gate, he felt the looseness in the boot, and briefly wondered if he could make it down the hill.
Klug had been in tougher jams than this.
``I just said, `To heck with it,''' Klug said. ``If this buckle decides whether I get third or fourth, then to hell with it. If this thing's going to work out, it's going to work out. If not, so be it. I just made the best of it.''
He won the race, won the bronze, and celebrated by bouncing his fist against his heart, then pointing over to his father, his girlfriend and the dozens of other overwhelmed friends and family who came to see him.
A few moments later, the 29-year-old 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. Later, he gave the flowers to his girlfriend, Missy April.
``I don't even know what to say,'' April said. ``Everything he's done is a miracle.''
Almost lost in the celebration was the American record Klug helped set. He won medal No. 14, breaking a record last set in 1998 in Nagano. Including the halfpipe winners earlier in the week, snowboarders have accounted for five of those medals.
``That's pretty cool,'' Klug said. ``I'm glad I could help.''
The only American woman in the competition, Lisa Kosglow, lost in the quarterfinals and finished eighth.
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, who takes music lessons and has been playing the guitar in the Olympic Village coffee shop this week, dedicated her victory to the late French Alpine star Regine Cavagnoud.
Cavagnoud died last October when she slammed into a German ski trainer during a practice run, and Blanc said she would play a song dedicated to her Friday night.
``She's done all her best, she left at the top, and nobody can take that away from her now,'' Blanc said.
Klug's saga began in 1993 when he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare disorder that slowly eats away at the bile duucts' ability to function.
He didn't start feeling the real effects of the illness until early in 2000, when a sharp pain pierced his right side. Quickly, his health deteriorated.
He moved up the waiting list for donors, but was also well aware of the frightening statistics: Over 80,000 people are on the list awaiting organ transplants. An estimated 16 of those people die every day.
``I thought I might be one of those people,'' he said. ``Being on the waiting list was one of the scariest things I'd ever been through.''
The wait ended in July 2000 when Flood's son, Billy, was accidentally shot in the head by a neighbor who was messing with a gun.
``As I sat there in that room and the machines were sounding, I was watching him,'' Flood said. ``It's a kind of pain you can't explain.''
Klug has yet to meet the donor family, although he says he wants to soon.
He wants his story to send a message to the world, ``to get families talking about organ donation,'' but said he never felt pressure to win to make his ordeal worthwhile.
``All I can do is relax, have fun, enjoy each turn, and do the best I can,'' he said.
He came through with the bronze, and now America has its newest, and maybe greatest, Olympic comeback story.
``He's on the podium for the U.S.,'' said Klug's father, Warren. ``What could be more exciting?''
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press