KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — On a U.S. Olympic team chock full of stars, one week ago, Joss Christensen didn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Today, after a dizzying array of twists and flips, the 22-year old freeskier now has an Olympic gold medal.
It was only part of an all-red, white and blue podium at Thursday’s men’s ski slopestyle competition. The American men swept the podium in exciting fashion as Gus Kenworthy won silver and Nick Goepper took bronze.
It wasn’t long ago that Christensen, from Park City, Utah, was on the verge of missing the Olympics. He hadn’t reached the podium enough this season but after winning a Grand Prix qualifying event last month, he was awarded a discretionary roster spot and given one of the last tickets to Russia. The 22-year old finished only sixth at the Winter X-Games on Jan. 26, and was overshadowed in Sochi by his own talented teammates.
But the Olympics provides a blank slate and past runs no longer matter. With that in mind, Christensen, who’d already posted the top score in the qualifying round, put together the run of his life when he took his first pass through slopestyle course in Thursday’s finals, posting a monster score of 95.80. All 12 freeskiers in the finals had a chance to top it, but none could.
The event again showcased how Team USA is capitalizing on the sports making a debut on the Winter Games menu. An X-Games staple, slopestyle requires freeskiers to navigate the course’s rails and jumps, trying to impress judges with the style and difficulty of their tricks. On Tuesday, American Devin Logan won gold in the women’s competition.
A total of 12 new events were added at these Sochi Games and the United States has netted seven medals out of the new competitions thus far, including four golds (which all came in ski and snowboard slopestyle). There are still more new events to come, including luge mixed relay later Thursday, plus the biathlon mixed relay, ski halfpipe and snowboarding parallel slalom — a total of 18 more medals up for grabs that didn’t exist four years ago.
Kenworthy, a 22-year old Colorado native, saw a strong first run spoiled by a tumble on the final jump. His score of 31.0 put him in 11th place midway through the finals. But on his second pass through the course, Kenworthy put together a rousing run that impressed judges and earned a score of 93.60.
Skiing next was Goepper, 19-year old from Indiana who put together a thrilling first run and shot to the top of the leaderboard — at least temporarily — with a score of 92.40. Goepper, who won slopestyle gold in each of the past two Winter X-Games champ, wasn’t quite as strong on the second run. He couldn’t overtake Christensen or Kenworthy but was still firmly in third.
The Americans have shown they’re clearly comfortable at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, tucked high into the Caucasus mountains and the site of the Olympics snowboarding and freestyle skiing events. Including Thursday’s medalists, the United States has claimed nine of their 12 medals here thus far, which includes four in snowboarding and five in freestyle skiing.
Bobby Brown, a pioneer of the sport and an X-Games sensation, had a tough Olympic competition. He was the last qualifier to sneak into the finals, and a strong first run there was spoiled by a spill on his final jump, resulting in a disappointing score of 29.20. His second run was much more clean, earning a score of 78.40, which resulted in an 9th place finish.