Joss Christensen looked like a long shot to even make the U.S. Olympic Team, but by the end of the first men's Olympic slopestyle ski event, he was standing on top of the podium, wearing the gold medal of an Olympic champion and joined on the podium by U.S. teammates and friends Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Nick Goepper (bronze).

The road to the gold medal was a long, difficult journey for Christensen, who was supposed to start this season's slopestyle training in New Zealand in August.

But shortly after arriving there, on Aug. 15, Christensen learned that his father, J.D., had passed away from a congenital heart problem.

The 22-year-old immediately returned home to Utah, setting in motion a rough start to his 2013-14 season.

Christensen, who grew up in Park City and started his slopestyle ski training with the Park City Freestyle Ski Team, struggled mightily through his first few events, failing to podium.

His former Park City Freestyle coach, Mick Berry, said Christensen understandably needed time to mourn.

"His father was very close to Joss," Berry said. "He was always involved in everything [Joss] did."

Eventually, Christensen improved, finishing the Grand Prix season with a gold medal at an event at Park City Mountain Resort. His late-season results were enough to secure him the last spot on a stacked U.S. slopestyle team.

Along with fellow stars Goepper, Bobby Brown and Kenworthy, the U.S. squad knew it had a chance to do something special.

"I knew the whole time that the USA had the potential to get a sweep," Kenworthy told U.S. Ski Team representatives in Sochi. "We have so many talented skiers. There are like 12 guys in the top 30 and a lot of them couldn't make it because our team can only have four people maximum."

Even with all the star power on the team, few expected Christensen to end up with a gold medal around his neck, joined on the podium by Kenworthy and Goepper.

"It's just amazing," Berry said.

Joss Christensen won the gold medal Thursday in the debut Olympic men’s slopestyle skiing event in Sochi, Russia. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Joss Christensen won the gold medal Thursday in the debut Olympic men's slopestyle skiing event in Sochi, Russia. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) (Ezra Shaw)
"Him getting that last spot proves he was exactly who they needed to take to the Olympics. You can't do any better than first."

Berry said he's inspired by the perseverance Christensen showed after J.D.'s death.

"The loss of his father last summer and all the hard work he's put in, it proves that hard work can overcome adversity," he said. "I think it was the most important moment of his life."

And, he added, the gold medal couldn't have gone to a better person.

"He's one of the kindest and humblest kids I've ever met," Berry said. "He's just a true class act of an athlete. As soon as I found out he got first place, I was so proud and so excited for him."

Berry said he knew from a young age Christensen would be something special.

"He would do jump after jump after jump on the water ramp [at the Utah Olympic Park] until he perfected everything," he said. "He truly loved the sport - he absolutely loved skiing. That's what's allowed him to take it as far as he has - his love of the sport and his work ethic."

After taking gold, the first Olympic gold medal ever awarded in men's slopestyle skiing, Christensen told the U.S. Ski Team in Sochi that sharing the podium with two of his best friends made everything even more special.

"It means a lot to me," he said. "I'm just so excited to even make it here. That was huge for me. I just wanted to keep the ball rolling. We've been skiing for so long this year and I just wanted to prove myself and have fun with it for the most part. I'm so happy to be on top with my two really good friends. Go America!"