Born: April 23, 1965
Town: West Milford
Donna Weinbrecht was born April 23, 1965 in Hoboken and grew up in West Milford. She loved winter sports, especially hockey—which she played against boys while wearing figure skates. She was an accomplished skater, but the family could not afford figure skating lessons. Plan B was to pursue a skiing career. The Weinbrechts were regulars at the Hidden Valley ski resort in Vernon and she began training there with Dave Schneider, who ran the Alpine program there. Donna later started a ski club at West Milford High.
Donna stood 5’4” and weighed just over 100 pounds. Her great athleticism, creativity and balance convinced Schneider that she would make a perfect freestyle skier. Freestyle skiing was often characterized as the Alpine equivalent figure skating or synchronized swimming—an acrobatic performance executed at breakneck pace.
When Donna was a teenager, the Weinbrechts bought a parcel of land in Killington, Vermont. She joined the Killington Freestyle team, but the team could not afford insurance and disbanded when she was 18—an age when world-class athletes typically intensify their training. In her case, she decided to follow her other passion and enrolled in a Ridgewood art school. That school went belly-up in 1985, so Donna returned to the slopes in Vermont, working on her freestyle skills without a coach.
In 1987, Donna entered the national freestyle championships at Squaw Valley, finished fourth and was named to the U.S. World Cup team. Her career took off—she was named Rookie of the Year in 1988 and won World Cup titles in 1990 and 1991. She was also national freestyle champ four times in a row.
Freestyle skiing had been gaining momentum as a potential event in the Winter Olympics, debuting as a demonstration sport in 1988. The IOC was looking for sports that would appeal to a broader audience—a quest that would eventually lead to an entire snowboarding category. Shortly after Donna made the U.S. squad, freestyle skiing was added to the 1992 games in Albertville. Moguls was the first freestyle event added; aerials debuted in 1994 at Lillehammer. Halfpipe and slopestyle completed the picture in 2014.
By the 1992 Olympics, Donna was unbeatable as a moguls racer. Moguls are humps of packed snow built up on curves to form a challenging course. Mogul freestylers are rated on their aerial tricks and timed down the course.
Donna finished second in the qualifying run to Raphaelle Monod of France, 24.09 to 23.48. In the finals, she scored a 23.69, edging Russian Yelizaveta Kozhevnikova and Stine Lise Hattestad of Norway to win the gold medal.
Donna won three more World Cup moguls titles—in 1992, 1994 and 1996. She inspired young freestylers Liz McIntyre and Ann Battelle, who joined her on the 1994 Olympic team. That year, Donna finished seventh. At the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Donna, now 32, finished her qualifying run tied for first. However, in the finals she finished fourth—just seven 100ths of a point out of medal contention.