February 13

Joss Christensen leads U.S. sweep in slopestyle skiing

Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper claim silver and bronze for just the third sweep in American Winter Olympic history.

By Will Graves
Ap Sports Writer

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Don’t worry, Team USA. The shredder kids have your back.

click image to enlarge

Joss Christensen of the United States competes in the men’s ski slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Christensen’s three off-axis jumps at the end of his first qualifying run totaled 10 full spins in the span of 15 seconds — all coming while he skied over the ramp backward.

The Associated Press

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Gus Kenworthy of the United States celebrates at the end of his second run in the men’s ski slopestyle final. Kenworthy took the silver medal.

The Associated Press

Additional Photos Below

Americans Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium in men’s slopestyle skiing Thursday, putting on a spectacular show to boost America’s lagging medal count and provide the U.S. team with a jolt from a mountain whose vibe is more spring break than Winter Olympics.

“I am shocked,” Christensen said. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it.”

With style and dominance to spare.

The podium sweep was just the third for the U.S. in Winter Olympic history, joining men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002. All four U.S. gold medals in Sochi have come at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, and Thursday’s haul came 15 hours after Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark grabbed gold and bronze in women’s halfpipe snowboarding.

“It’s crazy,” Goepper said. “I think it’s going to give the U.S. a lot more confidence and it’s going to get a lot of people really excited.”

The Americans were certainly fired up.

Goepper and Kenworthy raised Christensen on their shoulders following what amounted to a victory lap during Christensen’s last run down the mountain. The good friends wore flags as capes in the giddy aftermath of their victory in the sport’s Olympic debut.

Christensen was the last slopestyle skier named to the Olympic team, getting the nod over, among others, former world champion Tom Wallisch. The 22-year-old from Park City, Utah, was easily the best on a sun-splashed day where the weather was so warm that teammate Bobby Brown – who finished ninth – wore only a T-shirt in the finals.

It’s that kind of easy, breeze attitude that permeates a sport predicated on having a good time and testing the limits of what is possible. Nobody is closer to that limit than a U.S. team that has clearly separated itself from the rest of the world.

“It’s the kind of thing you don’t even let yourself think about,” U.S. coach Skogen Sprang said of the medal sweep. “I still don’t believe it happened.”

To be honest, neither could Christensen. He came to Russia hoping to find a spot on the podium. Instead, he owned it, throwing down four practically flawless runs over the series of rails and jumps that are the equivalent of a skier’s playground.

He led qualifying and insisted he had plenty left for the finals.

Christensen’s three off-axis jumps at the end of his first qualifying run totaled 10 full spins in the span of 15 seconds – all coming while he skied over the ramp backward. His first run in the finals won the gold, and his second would have been good enough to win silver.

“I can’t believe we made it,” Christensen said. “It’s been a long journey.”

A painful one, too. Christensen lost his father J.D. in August and got the news while training in New Zealand. The last six months have been a mix of grieving and renewed focus for a skier whose lengthy list of injuries includes a pair of broken wrists and microfracture surgery in his knee.

It all slowed Christensen, but didn’t stop him.

“I hope I made my father proud,” he said. “Through all the injuries I’ve had, he’s always supported me and never said stop. I Hope he’s looking down and smiling. Did it for him.”

Christensen’s first run in the finals produced a 95.80, giving the rest of the 12-man field a target to beat. None could top the kid with the floppy blonde hair and easy smile that seems to embody a sport that often looks like it’s just a bunch of guys taking turns showing off.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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U.S. supporters pose for photos after U.S. skiers swept all three medals in the men’s ski slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.)

The Associated Press

  


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