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Exciting finish in men's Olympic slopestyle

Published On: Feb 13 2014 04:47:20 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 13 2014 06:16:09 AM CST
Joss Christensen, ski slopestyle finals, Sochi

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

American skiers swept the Olympic men's slopestyle podium on Thursday with Joss Christensen taking gold. Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper took silver and bronze respectively at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

Norway's Andreas Haatveit had the highest finish of any non-American rider, coming in fourth.

The other American in the final, Bobby Brown, a 22-year-old from Colorado, finished in ninth place.

A 22-year-old Park City, Utah, native, Christensen came into the Olympics a distant 36th in the World Cup slopestyle standings and finished sixth at the Winter X Games in the event last month. He had finished the 2011-12 season sixth overall in slopestyle, but suffered a knee injury in late 2012 that sidelined him for a while.

Christensen, whose best World Cup finish -- and only career podium -- came with a third-place finish during the 2011-12 season, was a discretionary coaches' choice for the last spot on the U.S. ski slopestyle team. He landed his spot on the strength of his gold-medal performance in his hometown last month at the final U.S. Freestyle Grand Prix qualifying event.

The ski slopestyle, one of 12 events new to the Olympics this year, has proved to be one of the most popular at the Winter X Games over the years. Slopestyle, which was also introduced in snowboarding with a U.S. gold-medal sweep over the weekend, features a steep course with a series of challenging aerial stunts, ramps and rails.

All of the four gold medals Team USA has won so far in Sochi have come in slopestyle events, and the U.S. has dominated slopestyle in both skiing and snowboarding, winning six of the 12 medals in the four events.

American Devin Logan won silver in the inaugural women's ski slopestyle competition on Tuesday, with Canadians Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre winning gold and bronze, respectively.

Qualifying stumbles, surprises

Goepper and Brown, seen as medal contenders coming into the event, struggled initially in the qualifying round earlier Thursday, with both skiers falling on their first runs. It took much-improved performances on their second runs to work their way up into the 12 skiers who advanced to the finals out of the initial field of 32.

In the case of Brown, who came into the Olympics ranked third in the World Cup standings, it was by the skin of his teeth, as he ended up finishing the qualifying round in 12th place.

Christensen and Kenworthy, the less-heralded members of the U.S. team, on the other hand, delivered with their first runs in the qualifying round, both scoring high enough to pretty much guarantee their places in the finals on their initial trips down the slope. In fact, Christensen delivered the top two overall runs of the qualifying round, scoring a 91.0 on his first and then bettering it with a 93.20 on his second.

Overall, Christensen, Goepper and Kenworthy qualified in three of the top five spots to move on to the finals.

The Americans

Kenworthy, a 22-year-old from Telluride, Colo., finished fifth in slopestyle at the 2014 Winter X Games, where he became the first person to land a triple-cork in the event.

He currently stands eighth in the 2013-14 World Cup slopestyle standings, having earned top-10 finishes in all three events he's entered so far.

The Olympic rookie is especially known for his versatility, competing in slopestyle, halfpipe and big air events. He was the Association of Freeskiing Professionals overall champion for both 2011 and 2012. He will also be competing next week in Sochi in the ski halfpipe competition.

Goepper, 19-year-old Indiana native, is a two-time reigning Winter X Games gold medalist in the event. He also won a silver medal at the 2012 Winter X Games and finished third at the 2013 FIS World Championship.

He came into the Olympics sitting atop the World Cup slopestyle standings, having a first- and second-place finishes in three events so far.