In rare winter sweep, US rules Olympic slopestyle
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — For only the third time in Winter Games history, the United States swept the podium, capturing the top three spots Thursday in slopestyle skiing’s Olympic debut to revive the country’s showing in Sochi.
Joss Christensen, a 22-year-old making his first appearance on the Olympic stage, won the gold in a dominating performance that featured four near-perfect runs over the rails and jumps at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The last skier selected for the U.S. slopestyle team, Christensen posted the top two scores in both the qualifying runs and the finals.
“I am shocked,” Christensen said. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it.”
Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper captured the silver and bronze, as the U.S. skiers matched the country’s previous sweeps in men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002.
“It’s the kind of thing you don’t even let yourself think about,” U.S. coach Skogen Sprang said. “I still don’t believe it happened.”
The sweep provided a boost for an American team that had seen many of its biggest stars — from Shaun White to Bodie Miller to Shani Davis — wipe out in the first six days of the games.
The U.S. team now has won four golds, all on the slopes of the Extreme Park. The three medals pushed the U.S. total to 12, and put the Americans back in the running to repeat its 2010 performance as the games’ overall medal winner.
Five other sports awarded medals on Day 7 of the Olympics: cross-country skiing, biathlon, speedskating, short-track speedskating and luge. Preliminary rounds in men’s hockey also got underway Thursday, with Finland topping Austria 8-4 in the opener.
SLOPESTYLE SKIING: Goepper and Kenworthy raised Christensen on their shoulders after his final run down the mountain, which he started knowing he already clinched the gold. The three friends wore flags as capes in the giddy aftermath of their triumph. “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,” Goepper said.
CROSS-COUNTRY: Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland skied with a fractured foot but still captured the gold in the women’s cross-country 10-kilometer classical race. Leading virtually all the way, Kowalczyk finished in 28 minutes, 17.8 seconds, beating silver medalist Charlotte Kalla of Sweden by 18.4 seconds. Therese Johaug of Norway took bronze, 28.3 seconds behind.
SPEEDSKATING: Li Jianrou of China won the gold in 500-meter short-track speedskating after all three of her competitors in the finals fell. Li’s victory keeps the Olympic title in China’s hands. Injured countrywoman Wang Meng couldn’t defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002. Arianna Fontana of Italy took the silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea earned the bronze. Elise Christie of Britain caused the first crash of the wild final and was disqualified.