ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Joss Christensen was the fourth and final U.S. representative to qualify for the 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle team. He never won a major event until the Grand Prix this season. Now, he’s a gold medalist, alongside teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper, who took home silver and bronze, respectively, amounting to an American sweep of the inaugural Olympic men’s freeskiing podium Thursday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
“It was definitely an honor to make the team, and I just wanted to show everyone that they made a good choice,” said Christensen. “I just wanted to prove myself and ski like it was a normal contest and have fun with it. I’m glad it worked out.”
It was just the third U.S. sweep of a podium in the history of the Winter Olympic Games and the first time it’s ever happened in skiing. The others came in men’s figure skating in 1952 and men’s snowboard halfpipe in 2002.
With massive white tarps lining the perimeter of the course to give the impression of more snow, or less dirt, athletes faced some of the warmest temperatures ever at a major slopestyle event. Bobby Brown, the fourth American in the contest, made mistakes in both of his runs in the finals to take ninth. He said he’s never competed in a T-shirt before today.
However, there were no major complaints about the course. In fact, the soft, spring-like conditions may have only persuaded more athletes to go big with a record number of triple-corks, a nonexistent trick at the start of the season but required to be in the conversation Thursday.
With a first-run score of 95.80 in the finals, Christensen’s winning performance was characterized by huge airs and clean landings, including the trick of the day, a switch triple-corked 1440 on the last jump.
“I can’t really believe it right now. This is pretty crazy,” said the 22-year-old gold medalist. “It has been just an amazing day. I am shocked. I am stoked to be up here with my friends.”
Christensen dedicated the win to his late father, JD Christensen, who passed away in August due to a congenital heart condition: “I’m definitely skiing for my father. I hope I made him proud.”
Kenworthy used his second run to also stomp a last-hit triple cork, jumping into the silver medal position and edging pre-event favorite Goepper into third.
“You don’t have quite as much control over the rotation as you do with other tricks,” said Kenworthy of the triple cork. “I don’t really know why it all happened here. It’s still kind of a new thing. Nick (Goepper) and myself did it at X Games a couple weeks ago, and I think this course was just built really well for it — more than big enough to be able to do those tricks.”
“It’s just one of those things where the technical aspect of it is no different than a double,” said Goepper. “It’s just staying in the trick and committing to doing the whole thing. I think everyone just brought them out in the Olympics, the biggest contest in freeskiing now.”
In his second run, Goepper made a mistake in the jump line of his second run and did not attempt a triple on his final hit. His first run score of 92.40 would be his best.
In a sport that Bob Costas famously likened to an episode of “Jackass,” the Americans dominated an international field of 12 finalists, which included athletes from seven countries. (Behind the U.S., Norway was the second most represented nation with three participants in the finals.) Like many first-time Olympic sports, slopestyle has taken some criticism at these Games for being semi-serious, but that certainly hasn’t bothered the athletes who have been having a ball.
“We’re definitely taking our sport very seriously,” said Kenworthy. “It’s a very fun sport. … You get to a certain point in the sport where you haven’t really worked at all — you’ve just been having fun — but now, for sure, there are obligations you have to do. It’s kind of like work, but it’s still fun. … It’s a good mix.”
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