Joss Christensen leads U.S. slopestyle ski sweep in earning a victory dedicated to his dad

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 4:50 p.m. MST

Men's slopestyle skiing medalists, from left, Gus Kenworthy, silver, Joss Christensen, gold, and Nicholas Goepper, bronze, all from the United States, smile as their country's national anthem is played during their medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

Morry Gash, AP

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — With the Olympics a real possibility for slopestyle skiers, JD Christensen asked one thing of his son last August — keep skiing.

So Joss Christensen committed to do his best and left his father in a Salt Lake hospital to train in New Zealand. Just a few days after that conversation, his father was gone.

Six months later in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains of Russia, the 22-year-old Park City skier delivered on that promise in a way few believed was possible.

“I hope I made my father proud,” said Christensen after winning with a near perfect run that earned 95.80 points. “He’s been supporting me from day one, through all the injuries I’ve had, which I know scares parents a lot. And he’s always supported me and never said stop, and I wish he was here. I hope he’s looking down on me and smiling. I hope I made him proud. I did it for him.”

The last man named to the U.S. slopestyle ski team by way of a coach’s discretionary pick led his teammates — Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper — in a sweep of the sport’s Olympic debut. It is only the third U.S. sweep in Winter Games history with the others coming in 2002 (halfpipe) and 1956 (men’s figure skating).

After a thrilling competition in which skiers continually pushed the limits of what’s been done in the sport, the medalists had their moment at the base of the run. They each held a flag as they waved to a raucous crowd of red, white and blue clad fans, who serenaded them with the national anthem and chants of “U-S-A!”

All of the competitors skied to — and sometimes past — their previous limits. Christensen said he chose to add a triple flip (in which he enters the trick skiing backward) to his run just two days ago.

“I learned that trick actually like two or three days ago in practice sessions,” he said. “I knew once I learned it, I had to put it in my run if I wanted a chance to make it on the podium.”

It turned out to be the difference-maker.

“Man, that was sick,” Goepper said. “It was definitely a winning trick.”

Christensen seemed the least likely of the four U.S. skiers to lead the historic sweep. Kenworthy, who earned silver with a score of 93.60, became the first skier to land a triple cork (inverted spin) in competition two weeks ago at X Games.

Goepper owns back-to-back X Games titles and landed a triple flip to best Kenworthy in that X Games final.

Bobby Brown, who finished ninth, owns a list of podiums in the sport’s biggest contests and was the first to land a triple cork 1440 in competition.

Christensen, on the other hand, had never won a major competition until he won the Grand Prix on his home course in Park City two weeks before the start of the games. He had enough points from solid, but not outstanding, skiing to put him in the mix of skiers the coaches could take to the Sochi Winter Games.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “I’m excited to even make it here. That was huge for me. I just wanted to keep the ball rolling. … It was definitely an honor to me, the team, and I just wanted to show everyone that they made a good choice. I just hoped to prove myself.”

The way he did that was to go about his business in his understated way.

He went to work trying to make his run worthy of the Olympics. His competition, however, was doing the same. All of the athletes did new tricks, more than a half dozen throwing triple flips when just two weeks ago there were only two.

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