Christensen's gold validates decision

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- There were so many tears in the finish area at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Thursday afternoon, it was difficult to tell who was happiest for Joss Christensen. The first men's ski slopestyle gold medalist in Olympic history and his teammates became only the third trio of U.S. athletes to sweep a Winter Olympics podium.

There was Joss' mom, Debbie, still in shock that she was even here in Russia watching her son compete in the Olympics. There were the members of the U.S. men's ski halfpipe team, who were hugging anyone dressed in red, white and blue and shouting how proud they were of the manner in which their teammates had just debuted the sport of freeskiing to the world. There was slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan's mom, Nancy, tears streaming down her cheeks. And halfpipe skier Brita Sigourney, who said no matter what happens in her event on Feb. 20, watching Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper sweep the podium made her week.

"Joss does more than anyone, he works so hard," Sigourney said through tears and laughter and sniffles. "There was no doubt in my mind that he could win the Olympics. He earned that spot and he wanted to prove that to everyone else. He is the best skier here."

After finishing first overall in qualifiers and landing both of his runs in finals, which included a crafty top section, a double cork 1260 and the only switch triple cork 1260 of the competition, that was no longer a question. After qualifiers, teammate Bobby Brown called Christensen the skier to beat, saying his performance came as no surprise, considering he had been the most consistent and solid skier in practice all week.

"This means a lot to me," Christensen said after the flower ceremony. "I wanted to keep the ball rolling. I wanted to prove myself. I didn't try to put any more pressure on myself. I just wanted to ski and have fun and it worked out."

But it has been a long road to the podium. After two seasons in which he improved both his skiing and results, Christensen entered the 2014 Olympic qualifying season confident he had the ability to make the team. In August, he flew to New Zealand for a World Cup event in Cardrona, where he hoped to earn the required FIS points.

The slopestyle event was scheduled for Aug. 18. But on Aug. 15, he got word that his father, JD, the man who had instilled a love and passion for the sport of skiing, had died at home in Park City, Utah.

"He had to bail on the event and come home and he wasn't sure he'd even be able to make the team," Kenworthy said.

After a slow start in the first two Grand Prix contests, Christensen won the final qualifier in Park City and, after several tiebreakers, finished the season in fourth place in the standings. The U.S. team planned to send four slopestyle skiers to the Games.

But although Christensen had claimed that coveted fourth spot, many insiders believed the fourth discretionary pick would, and should, go to 2013 X Games champ Tom Wallisch, who had dominated slopestyle skiing during the 2013 season, but struggled during Olympic qualifying and finished seventh overall. When Christensen was announced as the coach's pick over Wallisch, freeski fans lit up message boards and Twitter, demanding the decision be reversed.

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