U.S. men sweep slopestyle podium


KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Don't worry, Team USA. The shredder kids have your back.

Americans Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium in men's slopestyle skiing Thursday, putting on a spectacular show to boost America's lagging medal count and provide the U.S. team with a jolt from a mountain whose vibe is more spring break than Winter Olympics.

"I am shocked," Christensen said. "I am stoked to be up here with my friends.

"America, we did it."

With style and dominance to spare.

The podium sweep was just the third for the U.S. in Winter Olympics history, joining men's figure skating in 1956 and men's halfpipe snowboarding in 2002. All four U.S. gold medals in Sochi have come at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, and Thursday's haul came 15 hours after Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark grabbed gold and bronze in women's halfpipe snowboarding.

"It's crazy," Goepper said. "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 Americans were certainly fired up.

Goepper and Kenworthy raised Christensen on their shoulders after what amounted to a victory lap during Christensen's last run down the mountain. The good friends wore flags as capes in the giddy aftermath of their victory in the sport's Olympic debut.

Christensen was the last slopestyle skier named to the U.S. team, getting the nod over, among others, former world champion Tom Wallisch. The 22-year-old from Park City, Utah, was easily the best on a sun-splashed day when the weather was so warm that teammate Bobby Brown (who finished ninth) didn't wear sleeves in the finals, going with just a T-shirt.

It's that kind of easy, breezy attitude that permeates a sport predicated on having a good time and testing the limits of what is possible. Nobody is closer to that limit than the U.S. team, which has clearly separated itself from the rest of the world.

"It's the kind of thing you don't even let yourself think about," U.S. coach Skogen Sprang said of the medal sweep. "I still don't believe it happened."

Neither could Christensen. He came to Russia hoping to find a spot on the podium. Instead, he owned it, throwing down four practically flawless runs over the series of rails and jumps that are the equivalent of a skier's playground.

He expressed his awe with the result on Twitter.

Christensen led qualifying and insisted he had plenty left for the finals.

His three off-axis jumps at the end of his first qualifying run totaled 10 full spins in a span of 15 seconds -- all coming while he skied over the ramp backward. His first run in the finals won the gold, and his second would have been good enough to win silver.

"I can't believe we made it," Christensen said. "It's been a long journey."

Christensen lost his father, J.D., in August and got the news while training in New Zealand. The past six months have been a mix of grieving and renewed focus for a skier whose lengthy list of injuries includes two broken wrists and microfracture surgery in his knee.

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