Best Male Olympian In Sochi? Summer Athletes Speak Out
American medal-winning performances at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games struck home with U.S. summer Olympians in a number of ways.
Such was the case with gold medalist Joss Christensen, who won the inaugural Olympic slopestyle skiing men’s competition.
“I was watching this with my 4-year-old son and for the rest of the night he pretended he was a freestyle skier. Love it!” said Shannon Miller, a seven-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics.
Sage Kotsenburg won the inaugural men’s slopestyle snowboarding event by landing a difficult trick that he had never previously attempted in competition.
“I love that he had the guts in the Olympic finals to throw a new trick, and landing that gutsy move is what earned him gold,” said 2000 Olympic diving gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. “His win reminds me that without great risk, there is no true reward.”
And then, there was David Wise, who won the inaugural men’s halfpipe skiing event, and alpine skier Ted Ligety, who captured the gold medal in the men’s giant slalom and became the second American to earn two Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing. His first gold medal was in the combined in 2006.
“He (Ligety) absolutely crushed it. It‘s beautiful watching him ski,” said Henrik Rummel, a bronze medalist in rowing at the London 2012 Olympic Games who was an alpine skier at his high school in Pittsford, N.Y.
The four Olympic gold medalists are finalists in the Best Male Olympian category in the inaugural Best of U.S. awards program being presented by the United States Olympic Committee.
Fans can vote for their favorites through March 21 on the U.S. Olympic Team Facebook page in four categories: Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Olympic Games. In addition, categories for Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Paralympic Games will open after that competition wraps up on March 16. A Team Behind the Team Award and Fan of the Games Award are also up for grabs.
Ligety was a favorite among many summer Olympians after winning the giant slalom by nearly half a second.
|Mary Whipple and Esther Lofgren|
“I admire his determination,” said Mary Whipple, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in rowing. “From being ‘sponsored’ by his parents to becoming a two-time Olympic gold medalist, he’s a great role model that proves hard work, staying true to yourself and having a whatever-it-takes attitude will get you to fulfill your dreams.”
John Naber, an Olympic broadcaster and four-time gold medalist in swimming at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, shared a similar sentiment.
“I was impressed with Ted, first of all because he got lost in the pre-event publicity in the shadow of Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, and his event was a two-race combo like the decathlon in the summer Games,” Naber said. “He behaved wonderfully, both after his loss (12th in super combined and 14th in super-G) and after his win.”
Ligety wasn’t alone in receiving high praise.
Brandi Chastain, a two-time Olympic medalist in women’s soccer, picked Christensen’s win in slopestyle skiing as her favorite performance among Olympic men. Christensen posted the top two scores in both the qualifying and final rounds.
But one of the biggest moments was produced by Kotsenburg. He debuted and landed a 1620 Japan air mute grab — aka the Holy Crail — in the final. It won him the event.
“Being an Olympic athlete takes dedication, hard work, sacrifice, mental toughness, guts and a lot of time,” two-time Olympic champion fencer Mariel Zagunis said. “Champions know what it takes to win, and sometimes it means putting it all on the line, no matter how risky, in order to get that gold medal. Sage’s winning trick that he had never before attempted was a risk worth taking when he pulled it off and wrote history.”
“Besides winning the first gold for Team USA, I loved what he said right after: ‘I’d never even tried that trick before in my life, literally,’” said Esther Lofgren, a rowing gold medalist in the women’s eight boat at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “We all train to be ready for any surprises we might encounter, and I love that he surprised himself with something awesome.”
Naber was also impressed with Wise, who landed his signature trick, the right-side double cork 360, in halfpipe skiing.
“He also impressed me because of the family angle,” Naber said. “I found it sad that his lifestyle (married with a child at age 23) was deemed ‘alternative.’ I thought his choice was the traditional choice.”
Wise and his wife, Alexandra, run the youth group at their church in Reno, Nev. They have a daughter.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.