Nowhere in the world are fans so passionate about moguls skiing than Japan. And the Japanese were out in force tens of thousands lined the course and packed into the finish area. They came to cheer their hero Tae Satoya to the women's gold medal. But they left in awe of an American from the San Francisco Bay the kid with the K2s, a funny-colored hat and tricks like they had never seen before. Jonny Moseley, and the modern age of freestyle skiing, had arrived.
A native of Tiburon, Moseley grew up skiing at Squaw Valley with his brothers, skiing under the watchful eyes of the legendary coach, the late Clay Beck. He was always a showman always pushing the envelope of his sport.
A year out from Nagano, the highly-touted Moseley had mixed performances including a 12th at World Championships on the very same Olympic course. But in 1998, Moseley turned on the afterburners and dominated the World Cup, positioning himself as an Olympic favorite against the powerful Finns and Canadians.
In the Olympic finals, it was all Moseley, skiing a magnificent run capped off with his trademark 360-mute-grab performed to perfection. Show any kid today the iconic silhouette of a skier with his skis crossed and hand grabbing the boards and it will be identified with Moseley.
After putting down a breathtaking run, in the finish area he first appeared stunned. Did he win? Yes, it was gold! Then he turned on the radiant California smile, and the rest was history Letterman, Leno, Sports Illustrated, even Oprah! Jonny and his orange and purple leopard-spotted Bula hat made the circuit, dining with the stars and even hanging out at the Playboy mansion.
Fifteen years later, Moseley continues to maintain one of the highest profiles of any past Olympic medalist. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame honoree still maintains a visible presence with sponsors like Sprint and will be in the booth again for NBC's Olympic coverage out of Sochi, all while raising a family.
More than anything, though, he still serves as a role model for young freeskiers pushing the envelope of their sport like he did a decade ago. While it's hard to diminish the value of his 1998 Olympic gold, ask Jonny about his proudest accomplishment and he's likely to talk about finishing fourth at Deer Valley Resort in the 2002 Olympics. Four years after Nagano, Moseley put his energy into pushing his sport to new limits with his off-axis, twisting near-flip called the "Dinner Roll." While he won the crowd and TV viewers, the judges only gave him fourth. He may talk about his pioneering role in the X Games and the new freeskiing events about to debut in Sochi.
One thing's for sure, freestyle and freeskiing owe a lot to Jonny Moseley as a sport pioneer.