Americans sweep first-ever men’s ski slopestyle Olympic podium

Joss Christensen
America the beautiful. This is what a clean sweep of a debut Olympic event looks like, folks. L to R: Gus Kenworthy, silver; Joss Christensen, gold; and Nick Goepper, bronze. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Heading into the men's ski slopestyle final in Sochi on Thursday afternoon, all four American skiers looked primed to dominate the field. Joss Christensen had topped the pack in the qualifying round, with Nick Goepper and Gus Kenworthy cracking the top five and Bobby Brown bringing up the rear.

Who knew a qualifier could be so prescient?

Team America made history tonight. In a clean sweep secured almost entirely with first runs, Christensen, Kenworthy, and Goepper earned the first-ever gold, silver, and bronze medals in Olympic men's ski slopestyle. It’s only the third time in Winter Olympic history that the USA’s been able to achieve this. (The two previous times were in 1956, for men’s figure skating, and 2002, for halfpipe snowboarding.)

And it happened in a debut action-sports event.

Let's just let that sink in for a moment.

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It was by no means a sure thing, however. Christensen was on fire, unleashing an ability to remain in the top position of both portions of the day's freeski program, but no one really had anticipated that. In terms of the FIS slopestyle season standings going into the event, he sat in 36th position; by comparison, teammate Nick Goepper, a real favorite to take gold in Sochi, finished first, with Brown and Kenworthy no lower than eighth out of 67. For Christensen to blow the doors off—owning, as he did, the two highest scores of both the qualifiers and the final—was simply a coup.

With so many talented skiers gunning for gold, it was a straight-up details game Thursday afternoon. There's been lots of talk in the commentators' booth this week about PAVE: progression, amplitude, variety, and execution—the four elements the judges look for when scoring competitors in an overall-impression format. Skiers have to be able to spin to the left, to the right, and switch (backward) in each direction, and grab the daylights out of their skis all the way around.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>I can&#39;t believe it right now.. I just won the Olympics! Mind blown. congrats to everyone today and <a href=”https://twitter.com/guskenworthy”>@guskenworthy</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/NickGoepper”>@NickGoepper</a> for the sweep!</p>&mdash; Joss Christensen (@josschristensen) <a href=”https://twitter.com/josschristensen/statuses/433937624353738752″>February 13, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

With the final field of 12 easily demonstrating proficiency in this realm, it quickly became evident that triple corks would separate the medal haves from the have-nots. All three men on the podium, in fact, stomped their version of the triple 1440—Goepper, notably, sans poles. Still, the international contingent brought their own A games straight out of the gate, with Swedish stunner Henrik Harlaut tossing his dreads into a left-side triple 14 on jump one, run one, where most of the other men saved that trick for the final hit. Things got delicately technical in the jib garden, too, with skiers like Andreas Håtveit (NOR) aggressively hammering 430 on, 430 off rail slides up top and "doll bonk" 540s over the goggle-clad matryoshka.

The five judges had their work cut out for them, no doubt.

With the weather continuing to skew warmer in Sochi on Thursday, again approaching the 50 degrees Fahrenheit mark—Brown opted to shed his jacket and ski in a T-shirt both runs—course conditions could have played a role in how things shook out. Softer snow can allow for holes in the landings of favored features, and keeping speed can be problematic. But, as we've seen especially with the much-maligned halfpipe over the last couple of days, the very best athletes carry adaptability into every event, and nothing short of puddles can really salt their game.

Well done, boys. Well done.

Freeskiing continues with men's halfpipe qualifiers on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 5:45 p.m. local time. Check out NBC Olympics' viewers' guide for details.

MEN'S SKI SLOPESTYLE FINAL RESULTS
1. Joss Christensen (USA)
2. Gus Kenworthy (USA)
3. Nicholas Goepper (USA)
4. Andreas Haatveit (NOR)
5. James Woods (GBR)
6. Henrik Harlaut (SWE)
7. Aleksander Aurdal (NOR)
8. Russell Henshaw (AUS)
9. Bobby Brown (USA)
10. Oystein Braaten (NOR)
11. Josiah Wells (NZL)
12. Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (CAN)

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