By Nick Mulvenney
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) – Joss Christensen led a United States podium sweep in spectacular fashion to win the first Olympic gold medal in men’s slopestyle skiing at the Sochi Games on Thursday.
Another bumper crowd at Extreme Park were treated to a thrilling display of acrobatics as the freestyle skiers pushed their routines to the limits against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and blue skies.
Christensen led the pack after qualifying and his 95.80 on his opening run of the final, which he capped with a stunning switch triple-corked 1440 on the final jump, assured him of the title even before his second attempt.
Reflecting the have-a-go spirit of the sport, though, the 22-year-old nailed another spectacular flurry of flips, spins and tricks for a score of 93.80, which would have been enough for gold in itself.
“I can’t really believe it right now, this is pretty crazy. It has been just an amazing day,” said Christensen.
“I am shocked. I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it!”
Gus Kenworthy took silver with a score of 93.60 on his second run after falling in his first, while teenager Nick Goepper, the pre-competition Favorite, settled for bronze with 92.40.
Despite being encumbered by all their gear, the beaming minor medalists managed to lift Christensen into the air on an improvised chair.
“I am so stoked about an American one-two-three,” said Kenworthy.
“Nick is always the guy to kind of beat in a contest, he is so consistent and so incredible and Joss is really killing it right now. He is one of my best friends and I am stoked.”
The United States swept both slopestyle skiing golds after Jamie Anderson’s victory in the women’s event, which was also making its debut at the Sochi Games.
While Christensen learned his tricks on the best facilities in the world in his home town of Park City, Utah, James Woods had to make do with a dry slope in the unglamorous British industrial city of Sheffield.
Woods made it through to the final in third place but, hampered by a hip injury he sustained in a crash last week, was unable to deliver Britain their second Olympic medal on the snow and finished fifth behind Norway’s Andreas Haatveit.
Goepper, who won the last two X-Games titles in slopestyle, reflected a general consensus that the skiers had taken the sport to a whole new level in Sochi.
“I feel amazing,” said the 19-year-old. “It think today was the best display of skiing we have ever seen in our sport, so I am so happy.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)