No Podium Sweep, but David Wise Repeats as Freestyle Ski Halfpipe Champion

There were moments during the last four years when David Wise wasnt sure if he would survive.

The defending Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist endured the worst two seasons of his career. He suffered three concussions, plus serious injuries to his shoulder and back. His wife, Alexandra, experienced severe postpartum depression. Sponsors fled. His sister, Christy, lost her right leg in a boating accident and nearly died. One of Wises students committed suicide.

His score displaced countryman Alex Ferreira at the top of the leaderboard, whose earlier 96.00 had looked difficult to beat. Ferreira actually improved to 96.40 on his final run but it wasn’t enough to haul in Wise. A third American, Aaron Blunck, had the final run of the day after topping the qualification and a chance to displace Wise, but a small error on one landing was enough to relegate him to eventual seventh place.

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — At an Olympics marked by a lackluster medal performance, the American team had been waiting for a flash of dominance, a sign that something actually was going as a lot of people back home wanted and expected it to.

Chasing Wise, Ferreira said he chose not to hold anything back for the crucial final run. “My coach Elana Chase and I, thats our main rule: never give up. Never leave anything on the table, never let anything down. Always rise to potential, always rise to the occasion.” he said.

High hopes for a sweep of the podium rode into the freestyle skiing halfpipe, with David Wise, who won the gold medal when the event debuted at the 2014 Sochi Games, and Aaron Blunck, the reigning world champion, among four Americans in the final field of 12.

Wise, who was eighth in the qualification round at PyeongChang 2018, emphatically answered questions about his earlier form with a run that included four tricks out of five that incorporated the difficult double-cork manouevre, including 1080- and 1260-degree spins.

Freestyle skiing: Wise overcomes broken bindings to retain halfpipe gold

In the end, the Americans delivered, not a sweep, but a gold and silver dominating performance as New Zealand, in the form of 16-year-old, took third.

"I really wanted to land a run. I walked out of a ski twice. For both runs I walked out of a ski. Not really a mistake I made, but it was just unfortunate, so I had to put it all down on the third run, and I pulled it off.

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Wise, 27, of Reno, Nev., defended his gold from the 2014 Sochi Games, while Alex Ferreira, 23, of Aspen, Colo., won silver and Nico Porteous, bronze.

"Im honestly just in disbelief right now. Winning, losing, whatever, just the fact that I landed that run in the moment when it needed to happen, on that that third run, just felt so good."

The breathtaking acrobatics and one-two finish drew a sustained roar from an American-heavy crowd at the Phoenix Snow Park.

Those fans clearly hoped to see a sweep, with such a high caliber of American athletes in the field. But this is halfpipe, where it is common for the mighty to literally fall (as Blunck, 21, of Crested Butte, Colo., did in his second run, and Wise did in his first two runs only to recover with a jaw-dropping final go that bested the others.)

Wise chalked that up to the nature of the sport, in which each run can demand more awe as skiers execute complicated spins and switchbacks in an effort to top one anothers tricks.

Striking Silver: Aspens Alex Ferreira takes silver in Olympic ski halfpipe finals

He acknowledged that there was a lot of hype heading into the event, but the team sought to keep it out of their heads on their runs.

David Wise defends ski halfpipe title; Alex Ferreira wins silver

Sharing the top two steps of that podium with Alex is amazing, he said. The reality is the other guys had the opportunity. Aaron Blunck had the opportunity. Torin Yater-Wallace had the opportunity to take that spot away from Nico, and they didnt do it. So Im excited for skiing to look as good as it did today.

Their 1-2 finish certainly gave a jolt to the United States medal count, which now stands at 21 medals over all and eight gold. With just a few days left of competition, the Americans seemed on pace to lag behind Sochis disappointing total of 28 medals, nine of them gold.

Still, five of the United States eight golds have come in halfpipe or slopestyle events. In total, snowboard and freestyle skiing accounts for 10 of the United States 21 medals.

Halfpipe really caters to creativity, Wise said. It caters to doing things sort of differently than anybody else does. I think as Americans we have rebel in our blood.

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Wise used three different pairs of skis because he had binding problems on the first two runs, leading to wipeouts. He scored 17 on the first and 6.4 on the second before performing a near-perfect run on the third for a 97.20. He landed double corks in all four directions: front left, front right, switch backward left and switch right, which basically means he spun ridiculously high and twirled in nerve-racking succession off the halfpipe banks as if he were on a frosty trampoline.

Ferreira had a 96.4, and Porteous a 94.8 after trying a succession of moves he said he had never done before.

Because youre at the Olympics, you just go for it, Porteous said.

He took note of the American skiers and the hype about them completely dominating the event.

It would have been cool to see the U.S.A. sweep, but Im a really proud Kiwi right now, he said.

David Wise, Alex Ferreria win gold, silver in Olympic ski halfpipe

Yater-Wallace, who overcame a hard-luck string of injury and illness to make the team, finished ninth, with a score no higher than a 65.2.

David Wise defends title, US gets third gold halfpipe gold

It gave me a little bit of a boost, he said. I was able to to say, Hey, Alex has already crushed it. Torin has already crushed it. Aaron Blunck has already done an amazing run. Nico, coming out of the gate and landing something he has never done before. Freeski won.

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