David Wise always has seemed unique. But now he's really one of a kind.
He's arguably the best overall men's freestyle skier in the world. Yet he just doesn't fit the carefree, happy-go-lucky freestyle-skiing mold.
That didn't stop the 23-year-old American from grabbing a historic gold in the first ever Olympic freestyle skiing men's halfpipe in Sochi on Tuesday.
Wise is a husband and father of a young daughter, Nayeli. He is a devout Christian who met his wife Lexi at a youth church camp and has said in many interviews that it is his faith and family that motivate him.
That's not to say the rest of the freestyle-skiing crowd is a bunch of heathens. But it does appear to be a more free-spirited bunch that seems more in line with the radical deviation from the accepted norm that is the sport itself.
Take Canada's Justin Dorey, one of the top-ranked freestyle skiers in the world. He says on the team website, FreestyleSki.com, that the one thing he never leaves home without is his guitar and that his greatest fear is being abducted by aliens.
"I don't know how to overcome it," he claimed on the website. "They're coming."
Dorey also has admitted to blacking out during competition and sometimes never remembering the tricks he did. He's surely trying to forget Tuesday's events, when he fell during both of his runs in the finals and finished a disappointing 12th.
While Dorey jams on the guitar, worries about the coming of aliens and is blacking out, Wise just quietly goes about his business—on and off the ski slopes.
He still enjoys many of the same things his fellow competitors do—like driving fast, performing outlandish tricks in the halfpipe or just joking around. Everyone seems to consider him smart and funny and down to earth, but being a husband and a father has also kept him grounded and brought about a maturity that forces him to take seriously the things which are meant to be taken seriously.
Such as preparing for the Olympics and then performing as expected under pressure.
It was that pragmatic approach that allowed Wise to lay down a clean first run in Tuesday's finals for a monster score of 92.00 that left the rest of the field futilely chasing him for the rest of the competition.
Wise fell during his second run, and for a moment, he was vulnerable.
But when Dorey, the only skier left to make his run after Wise, fell again on the final run of the day, Wise's gold was secure. Mike Riddle, Dorey's Canadian teammate, posted a score of 90.60 to claim silver and Kevin Rolland of France had a run good for a mark of 88.60 that earned him the bronze.
Wise was the heavy favorite to win all along, based on him winning gold in the event in the last three Winter X Games. He also is No. 1 in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals halfpipe rankings.
The native of Reno, Nev.—a gambling city, ironically, for a guy who only gambles for gold in his halfpipe routines and never at the slots—has achieved greatness in his chosen athletic field by separating himself from the competition. He is so far removed from the usually freewheeling freestyle-skiing environment that John Branch of The New York Times recently referred to Wise as the "undude."
Branch wrote of Wise in November:
In the niche of the action-sports world he now dominates, Wise is the counterculture to the counterculture. He is the undude.
One of The Undude's main sponsors, for goodness' sake, is Pampers. Wise and his wife used to have to buy the disposable diapers in bulk at Costco for Nayeli, now two years old, so it is a sponsorship marriage made in heaven for the Wise family, but one that not many other extreme-sports heroes would seek out or embrace.
"There's an image they want. And I didn't fit that for a long time," Wise told Branch. "Even after I won the X Games the first time, they said, 'We don't know what to do with this guy. He's different.'"
He most certainly is. As of now, he's also an Olympic gold medalist in the men's halfpipe.
With this being the first year the event was incorporated into the Olympics, there is no other freestyle skier in the world who can make that claim.
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