ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Each in their own way, Alex Hall and Nick Goepper have dismayed at the spin-to-win direction of freeskiing.
Don’t get it twisted – both of the Americans are more than capable of doing it. But that’s not what fostered their love of the sport as they grew up in Zurich and Indiana, respectively.
It was the urban rails, the terrain parks and so many other parts of their sport that drew them in more than the acrobatics on skis. So, happily for them, and fittingly, Hall and Goepper picked unique lines and did creative tricks – taking all the Beijing Olympics course was giving them – and found their way to the slopestyle podium.
Hall won gold and Goepper silver at Genting Snow Park on Wednesday, extending the United States’ success in this event. Sweden’s Jesper Tjäder claimed bronze.
Goepper, of Lawrenceburg, became the first native Hoosier in more than a century to win medals in three Olympics. Lafayette’s Ray Ewry won eight golds in the standing jumps at the 1900, 1904 and 1908 summer Olympics.
Another Lawrenceburg freeskier, Justin Schoenefeld, earlier became Indiana’s first gold medalist at a Winter Olympics in mixed team aerials. Schoenefeld competed in men’s aerial finals later Wednesday.
Both Indiana skiers grew up at Perfect North Slopes, a ski resort in southeastern Indiana. Most of the snow does not come from the sky but is made on site – like most of the snow at the Beijing Olympics.
“You just kind of go for the biggest trick you can think of, the most rotation,” Hall said. “Which they can’t not score it well because it’s so progressive and so dangerous, but it felt really good to step back from that and take a full creative approach to the course.”
Since freeski slopestyle was added to the Olympic program in 2014, the Americans have medaled every Games and now have six of the nine medals awarded.
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Goepper, 27, has three of those alone. He won bronze in 2014 as part of the US sweep – with gold medalist Joss Christensen and silver medalist Gus Kenworthy – before winning silver in Pyeongchang.
“It’s so cliché, action sports is all about progression. But it really is because every year people are doing bigger and better tricks,” Goepper said. “Being the veteran now, I’m like, ‘Do we have to keep going like this? Can we just chill a little bit and not do 21000s or whatever?’ †
Goepper is only slightly hyperbolic. Last month, Hall won the X Games big air contest by landing a double cork 2160 – two off-axis flips with an unprecedented six rotations. Big air made its Olympic debut here, and Norwegian Birk Ruud won with corked tricks rotated 1800 and 1980.
This contest though – much to Goepper and Hall’s delight – stayed away from that.
Hall dropped into his first run ready to take what he thought were three big risks.
On the third rail, he combined a jump and rail move, spinning 720 while tapping the lead end of the rail with the nose of his skis and the back end of it with a tail tap.
He made unique use of the second jump, a mass of snow that offers five ways to takeoff. Hall entered the jump backward, spun 720, nose buttered off the crest of the jump by planting his skis and launching into another 540.
On his last jump, Hall hit a double cork 1080 but pretzeled it – or basically rewound the spin – 180 degrees before landing.
“That’s amazing,” American Colby Stevenson, who finished seventh, said of the final jump. “What a perfect place to do it at the end of your slopestyle run and show your creativity and show your personality.
“I’m so glad that it scored the way it did. It was very deserving. No one else can do that.”
The run put Hall in first with 90.01 points, and he’d stay there as other skiers tried tricks with more spins. Goepper’s best score, on his second run, was 86.48.
Ruud, the gold medalist in big air, landed back-to-back double cork 1620s. He finished fifth.
“It’s a good call. He does it more creative and it’s definitely not easy since there’s not that many people doing it,” Ruud said. “It’s good that you can get better with a funky nine than a dub 16.”
IndyStar reporter David Woods contributed to this report.