Behind the Gold: Fourth place was golden for pioneering Moseley
November 24, 2017
Jonny Moseley stood atop the steep pitch of Champion at Deer Valley. Down below were 20,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs. In the start, he buckled his helmet tightly – gone was the orange and blue Bula hat that had ignited such a craze four years earlier when he struck gold in freestyle skiing at the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Japan. To pump himself up, he dropped to the snow and ripped off a few push ups before clicking into his skis ready to make history again.
Jonny Moseley was a pioneer – an innovator obsessed with not just his own perfection, but in progressing his sport forward. Even today, 20 years since his 1998 gold medal, his impact is still being felt.
Growing up, Moseley's household was a culture of re-inventing the wheel. "My dad was always drawing designs on napkins," reflected Moseley. "My brothers and I were into action sports before they were called action sports – dirt biking, windsurfing, skateboard and eventually finding freestyle skiing in the mid 80s."
At the age of nine, he did his first bump contest on his home mountain of Squaw Valley in the shadow of the fabled KT22. He grew passionate about the tricks he did on skis. His first hero was Brad Holmes – freeskiing's original bad boy. Moseley was 16 when moguls made its Olympic debut in Albertville joining a planet full of young bumpers who were inspired by the legendary gold medalist Edgar Grospiron.
From an early age he wanted to be the best. "I had this lifelong fear of not being the guy with the coolest trick," laughed Moseley. "I remember doing my first 360 when I was nine and feeling incredibly happy. I could not stand it when someone was doing a better trick than me."
But while moguls skiing was seemingly hitting a peak with its Olympic debut in 1992, it quickly became stale in Moseley's mind. "Around '95 skiing hit its nadir," he said. "All the energy was around snowboarding. I could feel it happening."
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Moseley began following the rising stars of the Quebec Air Force who were grabbing their skis and landing backwards. He developed his own version of the mute grab 360 (where a skier crosses skis in the air by grabbing one ski just above the boot), sticking it on the bottom air at Izuna Kogen in 1998. In the finish he stood first with a bewildered look on his face before breaking out the trademark Jonny Moseley California beach boy smile, taking the world by storm with Olympic gold.
In the weeks and months that followed, he became the poster child for a new American sport hero. He threw down off a scaffold on CBS' Late Night with David Letterman in New York City and partied at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner.
On skis, he sought a new direction. His Quebec Air Force heroes were on the cutting edge of a new form of skiing. "I would see the whole industry changing – the energy was building," said Moseley. "There is nothing better than being in the middle of something where you are creating new things. That was a huge draw for me."
He loved the new rotations he was seeing in snowboarding. He had a vision to do a rodeo flip (an off-axis backflip) with 720 rotation and a mute grab. He tried it for the first time hucking off a wind blown lip of snow at Whistler. He got spanked and dislocated his shoulder. He trained on a water ramp that summer and premiered it at the 1999 X Games, battling with J.F. Cusson to taking big air silver.
Welcome to the Dinner Roll.
A year later, he won the U.S. Freeskiing Open slopestyle title with a Dinner Roll 900 (two off-axis rotations while spinning) and a Switch Rodeo 720. Looking ahead to the 2002 Olympics, he needed to figure out how to throw it in the bumps within FIS rules that did not allow inverted maneuvers in moguls. In the Dinner Roll, his twists came with his body parallel to the snow. But it was foreign to most judges. And it had been a tough season for Moseley rolling it out to FIS judges. A week before the Olympics, his coach Cooper Schell watched him throw the trick 49 times. He landed them all. The Dinner Roll was a crowd pleaser. But it might not resonate with those keeping score.
Show time at Deer Valley. Moseley was upbeat and excited. He knew the Dinner Roll carried risks. But he wanted to blow his sport out of the water and take moguls skiing to a new level. The crowd couldn't have cared less about scores. They wanted to see Moseley throw it down.
On course. Knees pumping. In the mid section it was all about speed – he needed to be much faster to carry momentum into the Dinner Roll off the bottom air. The crowd waited. He hit it, twisting and spinning in a move never seen before on the world's biggest stage. And he stuck it with the crowd giving it gold medal approval. But the judges gave him fourth.
Finland's Janne Lahtela took the gold that day. Moseley was .13 points away from bronze.
"I did not enjoy losing but I don't think I would have ever backed off doing it even if I had known," said Moseley reflecting back on that day at Deer Valley 16 years ago. "I'm most motivated by trying to see an idea or goal to fruition. Although it was very hard to swallow my loss in 2002, I am now feeling the effects of my efforts."
A year later, moguls skiing went inverted and the sport was changed forever. Freeskiing grew into a life of its own, making its Olympic debut in 2014. Moseley paid the price with the judges, but his pioneering evolved his sport.
"I am proud of the change I ushered in and I'm very happy to see that others appreciate it too."
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