KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The triple cork gave America triple medals Thursday.
Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper all landed triple corks — three backflips while also spinning — in the final of the first-ever men’s ski slopestyle in the Olympics.
Christensen won gold, Kenworthy nabbed silver and Goepper ended up with bronze for the just the third U.S. podium sweep in the history of the Winter Olympics.
The only other times this happened was in 2002, when the men swept the halfpipe podium, and in 1956, when the men swept figure skating singles.
“I am shocked,” said Christensen, 22, of Park City, Utah. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it.”
The triple cork was only landed for the first time in competition at the X Games last month, when both Kenworthy and Goepper did it. On Thursday, rider after rider attempted the trick.
“I think that this course was just built really well for it,” said Kenworthy, 22, of Telluride. “The jumps are really big, more than big enough to do those tricks. And everyone obviously wants an Olympic medal — I think it’s a reason worth sending it.”
Christensen had the highest-scored runs of the day, both in qualifiers and finals.
His first run in finals was the one that clinched it, scoring a 95.8 on a double cork 1260 with a double Japan grab, a switch right-side double cork 1080 with a tail grab, and the switch triple cork 1440 with a Japan grab.
He had barely made the U.S. team, clinching the final spot after winning the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix event in Park City just a couple of weeks before the Olympics.
“I just wanted to show everyone they made a good choice,” he said. “I hoped to prove myself. I didn’t try to put any more pressure on myself. I tried to ski like a normal contest, tried to ski my best, and had fun with it. It worked out.”
Christensen dedicated the run to his father, J.D., who passed away in August.
“He’s always supported me and never said stop,” Christensen said. “I wish he was here, but I hope he’s looking down and smiling. So I wanted to make him proud. I did it for him.”
American athletes from other disciplines in attendance burst into celebration after Norwegian skier Andreas Haatveit’s fourth-place score flashed onto the screen, ensuring the U.S. sweep.
“It was honestly one of the most amazing things to see so far,” said halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck, who attends Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy in Minturn. “Joss Christensen is like a brother to me, and I could not be more stoked for him.”
“I am really upset that I did not bring my broom to this event, because that was a sweep,” said slopestyle skier Keri Herman, of Breckenridge. “Joss is hands-down the nicest, best human being I’ve ever met in my life. He really, really, really killed it, and it’s so great because he’s amazing. I don’t think there’s anyone better to represent our country and our sport, and I could not be happier.”
American fans waving flags and clad in red, white and blue celebrated in the crowd on a balmy day at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Bobby Brown, of Breckenridge, was the odd man out for the Americans. He finished ninth. He fell on his first run while attempting to land the triple cork on the final jump, and in his second run, his landings weren’t clean and he lost speed.
“It is what it is,” Brown said. “I’m just stoked to see the boys kill it.”
U.S. slopestyle coach Skogen Sprang said he knew a U.S. sweep was possible, but they hadn’t really expected it.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I think I’m still kind of in shock.”
The three podium finishers are good friends who push each other each day in training and, despite their young age, have already done a lot to advance the sport. With their podium sweep in the Olympic debut, Christensen, Kenworthy and Goepper are the faces of a sport as it is exposed to a whole new audience.
“Today was a good showing of our sport, so hopefully the world recognizes how much fun we’re having,” Kenworthy said.