SOCHI, Russia -- The cool kids were throwing down tricks on the snow, one-upping each other, enjoying the sun and treating this Thursday in Russia like a spring day in Utah or Colorado.
“United States of Awesome,” came a voice from the gallery just behind the finish area.
That may best describe the day for U.S. slopestyle freeskiing. The U.S. swept the Olympic podium: Joss Christensen, 22, won the gold, longtime friend Gus Kenworthy, also 22, took the silver and favorite Nicholas Goepper, 19, got the bronze.
Even the fourth American, Bobby Brown, who finished ninth, displayed moxie, opting for a T-shirt in the nearly 50-degree conditions.
“It was a great day for freeskiing ... showcased it to the world,” Goepper said.
Christensen, the last man added to the team, turned out to be the best. He wanted to make his late father, JD, proud of him, turning the day emotional for him and his mother Debbie.
“He’s been supporting me since day one through all the injuries I’ve had, which I know scare parents a lot,” Christensen said. “He’s always supported me and never said stop. I wish he was here, and I hope he’s looking down and smiling.
“I did it for him.”
Said Debbie: “I think he was thinking of his father the whole time.”
His father had a heart condition and died in August when Joss was on his way to a World Cup event in New Zealand. He visited his father in the hospital before the trip and told him he was doing this for him, his mom said.
“(My mother) actually didn’t think she was going to come until a little under a week ago,” Joss said. “She called me and said a few of her friends helped get her a plane ticket out here, and a hotel room opened up just down the way.
“It meant so much. My parents love watching me ski. They’ve been my biggest supporters. ... I’m glad she was able to make it. I would have been sad if this happened and she wasn’t here.”
The afternoon at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park had a unreal feel for the U.S. contingent. It was only the third time the U.S. had swept the podium at the Winter Games, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee. The last time was in 2002 in Salt Lake City, when the men’s halfpipe team did it. In 1956, the men’s figure skaters did it in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
Kenworthy has known Christensen since they were about 12, jumping on the trampoline and the hitting water ramps together in Park City, Utah. They were friends right away and pushed each other at each level.
“Joss Christensen is such an incredible guy, not even as just a skier but more so as a person,” Kenworthy said. “He’s awesome. His dad passed away, and I know that was really hard for him.
“He’s just skied beautifully this year. It’s so awesome. I’m happy I got to watch him today, seeing him put down both of his runs. I think he definitely deserved the gold, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Goepper spoke of the team’s closeness.
“There’s such a cool, creative element to what we do, it never really gets stale,” Goepper said. “When we’re done competing, we go out the next day and for fun we just go skiing. We would hit the same course tomorrow and work on our different tricks.
“NFL players, I don’t think for fun, go out on an off day and smash into each other.”