Sochi Olympics 2014: U.S. Men Sweep Ski Slopestyle
In the 21 iterations of the Winter Olympics prior to this year’s Games in Sochi, only two events have seen three Americans grace the medal podium: men’s figure skating in 1956 and the 2002 men’s snowboard halfpipe. The US men’s skiing slopestyle team upped that total to three Thursday with a sweep in the first-ever Olympic competition in the event.
Joss Christensen, a native of Park City, Utah, took the gold for the Americans with a dominating performance, finishing first in both qualifying runs and then unleashing an event-best 95.80 on his first run of the finals.
Gus Kenworthy, a childhood friend of Christensen’s, and 3-time Winter X Games medalist Nick Goepper took the silver and bronze, respectively, but they were minor actors on a stage that belonged to the 22-year old champion.
Christensen blew the competition away, scoring three of the four best runs of the event and landing the daring switch triple cork 1260, a move he had only learned days before the event. He was the only competitor to land the move during the event.
"This means a lot to me," Christensen said after the medal awards. "I wanted to keep the ball rolling. I wanted to prove myself. I didn't try to put any more pressure on myself. I just wanted to ski and have fun and it worked out."
In winning gold, Christensen silenced critics who thought U.S. coaches should have chosen 2013 X Games slopestyle champion Tom Wallisch over Christensen as their supplemental choice. Both Christensen (fourth) and Wallisch (seventh) finished outside the top three automatic qualifiers, but the coaches selected Christensen, setting off a message-board firestorm.
"He had something to prove.” U.S. coach Mike Jankowski said. “He got the fourth spot instead of Wallisch and he didn't crumple under that pressure. He's been using it as energy and motivation."
It was a very emotional victory for Christensen, who lost his father and original skiing instructor, JD, in August. His mother, Debbie, had planned to watch her son compete on TV, but a number of her late husband’s friends held a fundraiser to cover the cost of the expensive round trip to Sochi, so she could watch Joss live.
After his victory, the victorious Christensen spoke of his father and reminded viewers everywhere of the power of sports.
“I hope I made my father proud today,” Christensen said. “I wish he was here, but I hope he’s looking down and smiling. I did it for him.”
Christensen may have been emotional after his victory, but the significance of the American sweep of the medal stand was not lost on him. He had a simple message for the U.S. fans watching Stateside.
“I am shocked," Christensen said. "I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it.”
Photo Credit: Getty