KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A newly minted American medalist was sharing his thoughts — something about making history — when a certain song ringing out from fans in the stands stopped him midstream.
“The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Yes, they were skiing in Russia. But on a warm-and-sunny afternoon that goes down as the greatest in the history of a young sport making its Olympic debut, the slopestyle course was All-American.
Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium for the United States on Thursday in slopestyle skiing, each throwing down versions of their sport’s vaunted triple-cork jump to capture one of the rarest triples of all: gold, silver and bronze.
It was only the third time Americans have swept an event at the Winter Games, and the first since 2002, when a trio of snowboarders in Utah did it in the halfpipe to truly bring their sport into the mainstream. The slopestyle medalists were well aware of what they’d accomplished in matching that feat.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better way to debut this sport to the world,” Goepper said.
Taken separately, any of these history-making young men would have woven their own wonderful story on the day of their resplendent, high-flying Olympic debuts. On this day, they came as a package deal.
Christensen, 22, of Park City, Utah, was the last add-on to the American team, hitting his form at just the right time after a six-month period of heartbreak that began when his father, J.D., died of a heart condition. Christensen was traveling to New Zealand for a contest when his dad died. He landed, turned around and flew back home.
“I hope he’s looking down and smiling, and I hope I made him proud,” Christensen said.
Kenworthy, 22, of Telluride, Colo., has generated buzz at the Olympics as a dog lover. He found a stray mom and her litter of four near a bus stop in the mountains and has been tweeting photos of himself with the dogs, making arrangements to bring them back to America.
“Kind of a fairy tale,” Kenworthy said.
Goepper, 19, of Lawrenceburg, Ind., grew up in hoops country, but as a kid, he preferred bumming rides to the 300-foot-high ski resort nearby. He sold candy bars and worked odd jobs to pay for the start of his career.
“Wow, really?” Goepper said when he learned about his place in history. “It’s crazy. I think it’s going to give the U.S. a lot more confidence and it’s going to get a lot of people really excited.”
The first U.S. trio to sweep an event was the 1956 men’s figure skating team. Five decades later, Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas swept snowboarding in the halfpipe in Salt Lake City. That win was a much-needed highlight for the host country only months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a key moment in America’s transformation into a Winter Olympics power.
Only, at the first week of these Winter Games, things haven’t been going so well for Team USA. Shani Davis, Shaun White, Sarah Hendrickson and Bode Miller are among American medal favorites who have come up empty.