SOCHI, Russia -- Joss Christensen wanted to make his father proud of him.
Those were among the last words he said last year to his dying father, James Dale “JD” Christensen, who was fighting a congenital heart condition. And those were among the words coming from Joss Christensen not long after he stunned the men’s slopestyle skiing field to win an Olympic gold medal on Thursday.
Despite his failing health, the father encouraged his son to push forward with his plans to compete in a World Cup event in New Zealand. Debbie Christensen, Joss’ mother, remembered what Joss said to JD in the hospital before he left on his trip in August.
“Dad, I’m doing this for you. I want you to be proud of me,’ ” Debbie said.
Mother and son shared an emotional embrace near the mixed zone in the bustle of gold-medal celebration at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. In fact, the United States swept the podium as Gus Kenworthy took silver and the favorite, Nicholas Goepper got the bronze.
JD once lived in Newport Beach and graduated from Orange Coast College before moving to Park City, Utah, and starting his own painting company. Debbie said he had been suffering from the heart condition and fought it, long and hard. He passed away, at age 67, when Joss was on his way to the contest in New Zealand.
“I hope I made my father proud,” Joss said. “He’s been supporting me since Day One through all the injuries I’ve had, which I know scare parents a lot. He’s always supported me and never said stop. I wish he was here and I hope he’s looking down and smiling.
“I did it for him.”
Said Debbie: “I think he was thinking of his father the whole time.”
Mother and son were thankful she was able to witness his gold-medal performance. Chirstensen was the very last member of the slopestyle freestyle skiing team, added in late January. Trying to find reasonable flights to Russia and a hotel rooms in Sochi at the last minute was difficult for many families, but Debbie happens to be a travel agent.
“She actually didn’t think she was going to come until a little under a week ago,” Joss said. “She called me and she said a few of her friends helped get her a plane ticket out here and a hotel room opened up just down the way.
“It meant so much. My parents love watching me ski. They’ve been my biggest supporters. ... I’m glad she was able to make it. I would have been sad if this happened and she wasn’t here.”
JD, who had been avid sportsman in his own right, wanted his son to keep skiing and competing.
“It was just a really hard summer with ups and downs with my dad’s health,” Joss said. “He wasn’t doing too well. I knew he wanted me to keep skiing, wanted to come into this year strong.
“Luckily I was with a bunch of close friends to help keep me company and give me support. My mom was able to get me a flight out (of New Zealand) almost instantly. I just dropped everything and went straight home. It was a really hard flight.”
The afternoon at Rosa Khutor had a unreal feel for mother and son and the U.S. contingent. This was the third time the U.S. swept the podium at the Winter Games, according to the USOC. The other times: men’s figure skating in 1956 at the Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics and men’s snowboard halfpipe in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
“I can’t quite believe it yet,” Debbie said. “I was nervous. I couldn’t breathe.”
Kenworthy has known Joss since they were about 12 years old in Park City, jumping the trampoline and the hitting water ramps together. They were friends right away and pushed each other at each level.
“Joss Christensen is such an incredible guy, not even as just a skier but more so as a person,” Kenworthy said. “He’s awesome. His dad passed away and I know that was really hard for him. ...
“He’s just skied beautifully this year. It’s so awesome. I’m happy I got to watch him today, seeing him put down both of his runs. I think he definitely deserved the gold and I couldn’t be prouder.”