SOCHI, Russia - Indiana native Nick Goepper started his medal bid with a thud Thursday, but is still taking the bronze home after an outstanding comeback and a U.S. medal sweep in the men's slopestyle event.
"I feel amazing," the 19-year-old from the Lawrenceburg, Ind., area said. "I think today was the best display of skiing we have ever seen in our sport, so I am so happy."
Goepper and his medal-winning teammates, Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy, hugged and shook hands at the bottom of the course after the final run. Goepper and Kenworthy cradled Christensen in their arms and almost dropped him.
Christensen won the gold and had the top three scores of the day.
"INDIANA! The bronze is coming back home. See ya soon!"
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The three U.S. skiers stood on a podium in the snow and received flowers to mark their top-3 finish. They will receive their medals tonight in a ceremony at the Medal Plaza.
It is only the third time the U.S. swept the medals in a Winter Olympics event.
Goepper, ranked No. 1 in the world, fell on the first of his two qualifying runs and was 26th out of 32 competitors after the opening round.
But Goepper nailed his second run with a score of 87.00 and finished fourth in qualifying based on each skier's best score.
In the finals, Goepper scored a 92.4 on his first run and remained in first place until Christensen knocked him to second with a 95.8 on his first run.
Kenworthy scored a 93.6 on his second run and pushed Goepper into third.
Goepper couldn't overtake them on his final run. He smacked his skis against the second rail feature, finishing with a 61.8, but still held onto third place.
Goepper, who wore bib No. 1, came in as one of the medal favorites after winning the past two X Games titles.
Slopestyle, new to the Olympics this year, is like skateboarding on skis. Competitors ski on rails and jumps and win style points with acrobatic and daring flips and twists in the air.
Goepper was the only one in the competition not using ski poles. He hurt his hands last season and started skiing without them.
“It’s a pain with poles. I don’t think you need them. They are irrelevant,” he said last month. “You only need them to get around the lift line. Without them, it feels a little bit more like skateboarding and it’s a little bit more free.”
Goepper grew up in Hidden Valley, Ind., and started skiing at Perfect North Slopes when he was 5. He liked freeskiing more than racing and honed his skills on the terrain park there for 10 years. He basically taught himself until he got a scholarship to a ski academy in Oregon and moved there when he was 15.
Hidden Valley and Lawrenceburg have been rooting for their native son with signs and banners throughout the area. A group spray-painted the Olympic rings on the dam at Hidden Valley Lake on Wednesday, and watch parties are planned at Willie's on the lake and the ski lodge at Perfect North Thursday night.