I definitely dreamed about it. But it was never in my mind a possibility that we would see. It was so cool. I didn’t realize we had an American sweep until 20 minutes after the contest. —On the United States' men team sweep the slopestyle ski competition at the Sochi Olympics
PARK CITY — Not in Joss Christensen’s wildest dreams did he imagine what would happen at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Sure, he dreamed about winning a medal.
And despite the fact that he was a coach’s discretionary pick — and the last man added to the 2014 U.S. slopestyle team, he allowed himself to imagine winning Olympic gold on a course he’d never even seen.
But what happened on Feb. 13 — and more so after that — continues to amaze him.
That was the day the 22-year-old led just the third U.S. sweep at a Winter Olympics with a gold-medal performance that he dedicated to his father, J.D., who passed away in August.
“I definitely dreamed about it,” he said after returning to his hometown of Park City this week. “But it was never in my mind a possibility that we would sweep. It was so cool. I didn’t realize we had an American sweep until 20 minutes after the contest.”
That’s because this was the debut of slopestyle skiing in the Olympics and the culture of the sport is one where the athletes tend to work together, travel together and train together based on their affection for each other, not nationality or team affiliation.
“It’s still hard for me to put countries to athletes,” he said. “It took awhile for me to realize how huge it was that we swept it.”
The sweep became one of the highlights for the U.S. team, and Christensen was at the center of the media storm. Normally very reserved, even shy, he said it was an experience made easier because he had good friends Gus Kenworthy, who won silver, and Nick Goepper, who won bronze, with him on the tour that took them from the medals ceremony to a week-long media blitz.
“It was pretty wild,” he said. “We did a lot of media right after straight to NBC, where we did interviews until 3 in the morning. It was pretty mellow but really fun. I never expected to be in this situation. I’m just trying to take it all in. I usually get really nervous. We did everything in a group, and I was so in shock, that made it a lot easier.” He said at every turn, he’s tried to suspend disbelief and just do the same thing he does on the mountain — enjoy the ride.
“It all felt like a dream,” he said. “I was just sitting back, laughing, and thinking, ‘I can’t believe this happened to me.’ It was really fun, and I’m not sick of it yet.”
Christensen said that while he’s usually “kept to himself,” he’s enjoying the challenge of dealing with people he’s only seen on television — like David Letterman and Carson Daly.
“I’m usually pretty quiet and reserved,” he said. “I think this is going to be a really good opportunity for me to open myself up and be a little bit more relaxed.”
Christensen dedicated his win to his late father, even tweeting after the medal ceremony, “Wow. Still in shock right now. Today has been the craziest day ever! Definitely one I’ll never forget. For you Dad!”
His mom was in the crowd, thanks to some last-minute support from friends and family. He said it wouldn’t have been the same without her there to share in the historic experience.
“They’re the ones who’ve supported me from day one,” he said, noting that not all parents would encourage their children to chase a dream that included high-flying, dangerous tricks. They had reservations at first, he said, but once he got into the sport, they’ve done nothing but encourage him.
In fact, telling his son to keep skiing was the last advice J.D. Christensen gave Joss before he passed away.
“I want to thank my coaches and the ski team for actually believing in me,” he said. “I owe this to them. And just my family and all my friends, people who believed in me this whole time. It’s crazy to realize all of these people who had this faith in me.”
He hopes to use his new-found fame to bring attention to all aspects of freeskiing, including filming. He’s in the process of putting together a crew to make a ski video on some of the terrain near his Park City home.
“I want to do a bunch of fun skiing and not really worry about competition,” he said. “I want to use this to my advantage and push my skiing and my views and goals. It’s all been pretty amazing so far. We’re just a bunch of kids who are having a lot of fun.”
Another surreal moment was when "Today Show" host Matt Lauer showed them a box of corn flakes with their picture on the front.
But despite all the stars he met and moments he enjoyed, he said spending time with his mom, coaches and the ski team’s support staff at USA House after the medal ceremony was actually the highlight, well, next to actually winning the gold medal.
When Christensen considers how difficult the road to the games was and how unbelievable the road home was, he just laughs.
“The craziest part was just walking around,” Chirstensen said. “We were recognized in the subway, restaurants, it was just crazy that people would recognize skiers.”