Joss Christensen shares Olympic thrills
Ryan Summerlin March 4, 2014
When Joss Christensen watched one of his best friends, and fellow Park City resident, Sage Kotsenburg win a gold medal to kick off the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he didn’t think anything in his Olympic experience would top that moment.
He spent the next few days telling people that watching Sage win was the happiest moment of his life.
"Once that last run [in the slopestyle snowboarding finals] came in and it didn’t knock out Sage, I just dropped to the ground and lost it," Christensen said. "I threw my sunglasses, I threw my hat I was just on the ground screaming. Everyone was staring at me like I was crazy."
He couldn’t wait to get back to the athlete hotel to celebrate with his friend.
"I wasn’t able to see him [at the competition], so that day, he was staying just down the hall from me," he said. "I got back to my room, left my door open, and every time I heard someone walking by, I would run out and see if it was Sage."
Just a few days later, though, Christensen would have an experience that topped seeing Kotsenburg win he’d win a slopestyle gold medal of his own in the inaugural Olympic men’s slopestyle skiing competition.
Christensen qualified for the finals in first place, earning him the right to go last in the final round. On his first of two runs, he put down the tricks that would earn him the gold medal.
"When I got to the bottom, I was just so happy and relieved to have made it through," he said. "It felt like a clean run. When I saw my score, I almost fell over I was so excited."
But, with 11 other competitors still having one more chance to knock him off the podium, the nerves began to set in.
"Being up there after my first run, I knew those next 11 runs were going to be the toughest runs I’ve ever had to watch in my life," Christensen said. "There’s a TV at the top, but you couldn’t really watch it when the person before you was going. After the person before you dropped, you had to get ready in the gate. Don’t get me wrong, at that point I knew I was guaranteed silver, but I was hoping to win. I was just listening to music really loud, trying to stay calm, keep focused and think of things I could do to one-up myself."
He wouldn’t need to one-up himself, though. His first-run score held up, giving him the gold medal.
"My coach looked over at me and said, ‘Hey, you got it!’" Christensen said. "At that point, everything just kind of lifted. I couldn’t believe it. My legs kind of went weak."
But he wasn’t about to leave without giving the fans one more show.
"I knew I wanted to do another run," he said. "We’ve been working so hard and pushing ourselves to new limits this season that I wasn’t going to let the whole world watch me do straight airs the whole way down the course."
Then, with Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper joining him on the podium, the experience kept getting better.
"Being able to look up [from the podium] and see three American flags and see both of my friends on both sides and being able to share the National Anthem with them is something I’ll never forget. It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life," Christensen said. "I thought I was going to cry, but I was just too excited about what was going on that I was just smiling from ear-to-ear."
The moment was bittersweet for Christensen, whose father passed away last August. But, he said, he knows his dad was looking down on him and smiling.
"Being able to win was just pure euphoria," he said. "But I wish my dad were here. I know he’s up above, jumping and screaming and smiling to this day. I just hope it made him proud."
Since winning the gold medal, it’s been a whirlwind of media appearances and interviews for Christensen. He’s been interviewed by David Letterman, among others, and spent a week in New York City for a media blitz.
Now that he’s back in Park City, he’s looking forward to some much-needed relaxation before he turns his focus to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I wasn’t ever thinking there would be the option of going another four years," he said. "But, after feeling what it’s like to win, it sparked a new flame inside of me."