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Joss Christensen Pays Tribute to Late Father with Gold Medal

Men's slopestyle skiing gold medalist Joss Christensen of the United States smiles while holding his medal during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/Associated Press
Tim KeeneyContributor IFebruary 14, 2014

Often times during the Olympics, we attempt to look beyond the medals for the best stories.

Well, with more than a week still remaining in Sochi, American Joss Christensen has already wrapped up both: a gold medal in the inaugural men's ski slopestyle event and undoubtedly the best story to come out of the 2014 Winter Games. 

To better understand Christensen's unbelievable tale, we first need to rewind a little bit. 

Last August, the 22-year-old flew to New Zealand for an important World Cup event that would help him qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. But just three days before the event started, he received word that his father, J.D., had passed away, and he immediately rushed home to 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," teammate Gus Kenworthy said, via ESPN.com's Alyssa Roenigk.

The passing of his father, who dealt with a heart problem his entire life but never wavered in his support for his son, only made Joss work harder. 

He eventually won the last qualifier in Park City—the place his father was drawn to by the ski slopes more than 40 years ago, according to the Washington Post's Rick Maese—and climbed to fourth in the qualifying standings. 

Still, many believed that the last discretionary choice for Team USA—four skiers were named to the slopestyle team—should go to Tom Wallisch, who took gold at the 2012 X-Games and the 2013 World Championships but struggled to seventh in qualifying. 

Nevertheless, Christensen was picked, a decision that, according to his mom, put him in an awkward spot, via Roenigk:

"It was a really awkward situation and hard on Joss," Debbie Christensen said. "He looks up to Tom as a role model. And Tom was really gracious. His fans didn't know [Tom] was injured."

It was later revealed that Wallisch was dealing with a torn ACL, but while that helped take some of the controversy out of the decision, it only helped reinforce the belief that Christensen's selection to Team USA was undeserving. 

That's clearly not the case anymore, as Christensen landed the only switch triple cork 1260 of the competition, put together a brilliant 95.80 on his first finals run and finished on top of the podium with two compatriots by his side.

Gero Breloer/Associated Press

And with his mom, who was sent to Russia thanks to a fundraiser put on by her late husband's friends, looking on, there weren't many dry eyes to be found. 

Nearly six months ago, Joss Christensen's father died. But after a roller-coaster of emotions and events that proved to be more gripping than any hair-rising slopestyle course could ever be, he is now a gold medalist:

After his emotional win, he talked about making his father proud, via Roenigk:

I hope I made my father proud today. He's been supporting me from day one through all the injuries, which I know scare parents a lot. He always supported me and he never said 'stop.' I wish he was here. But I hope he's looking down and smiling. I hope I made him proud. I did it for him.

J.D. is undoubtedly proud. Him, and the rest of the country. 

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