Out with the old, in with the new. That should be Team USA's motto for the 2014 Sochi Olympics after sweeping the men's ski slopestyle medals on Thursday.
American skiers Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper brought home all three medals in the new Olympic event, the first American sweep of any event in these Winter Games and a clear message to the rest of the world that slopestyle is America's new favorite Olympic discipline.
Of the 12 skiers to compete in the men's slopestyle final, four were Americans, with 22-year-old Bobby Brown—ranked third in the world in slopestyle, according to Sochi2014.com—the only one failing to get on the medal stand. Brown's teammates would not be denied, however, combining to truly dominate a strong field on the challenging Sochi course.
Just four skiers recorded scores in the 90s on Thursday, with Norway's Andreas Haatveit finishing a close fourth after recording a 91.80 on his second run in the final. It was not enough to pass Goepper, however, as he put down a 92.40 on his first run, good enough to hold on to the silver position until Kenworthy put down a stellar run of 93.60 on his second attempt.
Haatveit had the second-highest score in qualifying, giving him the second-to-last run in the final and the last chance to thwart an American sweep. When his score fell short of the medal stand entirely, the U.S. sweep was locked up with one skier still to go.
Christensen—ranked 36th in the world in slopestyle, heading into the Olympics—stood atop the Sochi course a newly minted Olympic champion, giving him a victory lap very few athletes ever get to have.
So what did Christensen do? He nailed his second run, scoring 93.80, two points shy of his first run of 95.80, but still a score so good it would have won him gold.
That is Olympic dominance.
His day was even better than that, really. There were just five runs in the slopestyle final to score 90 or more points, and Christensen had two of them. In the qualification round, which saw 32 riders vie for a spot in the 12-man final, there were just two runs in the 90s.
Christensen had both.
Of the 88 combined slopestyle runs in the qualification and final rounds on Thursday, there were just seven scores of 90 or higher. Christensen had four of them.
Americans, in all, had six of those seven. It was a fantastic day for American skiers and another exhibition of just how dominant Team USA has been at these new Olympic events.
"I mean it's been incredible to showcase our sport to the world," Kenworthy said, as reported by Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today. "We have an awesome course, beautiful weather and it was one of the best slopestyle competitions we've ever had. I really couldn't be prouder."
Of the four gold medals awarded in slopestyle events in Sochi—men's and women's snowboarding and skiing—the United States is bringing home three.
Sage Kotsenburg got the party started for Team USA in the snowboard slopestyle, taking the first gold medal of the Olympic Games over an incredibly deep field. Following that victory was teammate Jamie Anderson, who won the women's snowboard event by a considerable margin.
The only gold the U.S. failed to win in slopestyle was the women's ski event, but Devin Logan did manage to win silver. That medal, of course, preceded the sweep for the men's ski team, meaning that of the 12 medals awarded in slopestyle events at the Sochi Games, six have gone to Americans.
The Dutch can have speedskating. The Norse can have the aptly named Nordic events. Team USA gets the slopestyle.
There has been a lot of talk during these Olympics about the added events being geared toward a younger demographic, both in terms of the age of the athletes and the audience. None of the three U.S. medalists in ski slopestyle is older than 22 years old, including Goepper, who is just 19 but has the top slopestyle ranking in the world.
For the Winter Olympics to continue to attract the attention of fans around the world, the International Olympic Committee has to continue to include newer events to the traditional offerings. Thankfully for the United States, we are great at a lot of those events.
In fact, we are so great at the slopestyle events that there's hope the IOC will add even more four years from now.
What else can be slopestyle? Let's try to add another dozen or so events if we can, call them slopestyle and see if we can somehow trick the American competitors into winning everything.
Think about how great luge slopestyle would be. (Though doubles luge slopestyle might get dangerous.)
How about speedskating slopestyle? Wouldn't you like to see racers skate down a mountain of ice, going over jumps and hitting rails?
Ooh, curling! Can we have a curling slopestyle, where in order to hit the button we have to send each stone over a series of elaborate hills and steps before it earns any points? If you've been watching the U.S. curling teams, the competition sort of feels that bumpy already.
Whatever we can make into a slopestyle event, we should beg the IOC to include it in future Games. America is great at slopestyle. We proved that in Sochi.
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