David Wise Wins First Olympic Halfpipe Skiing Gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – David Wise's family was on the mountains hours before the debut of the men's freestyle ski halfpipe at the Olympic Winter Games when the rain started to fall.
Wise's twin sisters, Christy and Jessica — realizing the imminent battle with the elements — found a "nice Russian lady" with a couple of unused garbage bags, which they used to piece into makeshift ponchos for the group.
Somehow, someway, they knew — as the rain turned to sleet and snow and sleet again — that come their brother's event that evening, they would be in it for the long run.
Wise put out his signature trick, the right-side double cork 360, to become the last man standing at the top of the podium and the first men's halfpipe skiing Olympic champion.
"I feel amazingly honored to be the first ski halfpipe medalist," Wise said. "The conditions weren't optimal. We had a good field of riders and I'm really stoked to see how people came and threw down runs."
On a day that offered less than ideal conditions with wet and heavy snow, Wise put out a formidable arsenal of tricks on his first run to pull ahead of the 12-man field in the final. Wise fell at the top of his second run, as the fog rolled late into the night.
In halfpipe, the judges take the best of the skiers’ two scores. Wise's first run had done enough to outlast the competition. Wise took gold ahead of Canada's Mike Riddle who finished second with a score of 90.60, and Kevin Rolland of France who took the bronze with 88.60 points.
"I was really hoping for a good, clean, fast halfpipe tonight so we could really put on a show, but honestly I'm proud of all the guys here because everyone threw down regardless," Wise said. "While I am a little disappointed I didn't get to do my epic Sochi run that I wanted to do, it was a big night for freeskiing."
Team USA’s Aaron Blunck from Crested Butte, Colo., put down two full runs to collect 79.40 points for seventh place. Torin Yater-Wallace, who has rivaled Wise on the international circuit in recent years, faltered on both his runs in the qualifiers and placed 26th. Yater-Wallace came into the Games having spent the last few months recuperating from two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Lyman Currier, who rounded out the U.S. contingent at the debut event, finished 28th.
"You just have to approach it with a good attitude and go out and have fun," Blunck said of the conditions. "So far it's been an experience of a lifetime. I really didn't think 2014 was possible a couple years ago. Then all of a sudden last year it was like, 'Oh this is kind of possible.’"
Having flown in from Reno, Nev., to watch Wise from the frontline under their makeshift ponchos were Wise's mother, father, sisters and his wife, Alexandra Wise.
Alexandra watched on quietly as those around her cheered when Wise took the top podium spot in the post-event flower ceremony. For Alexandra, this victory had been the product of much sacrifice and compromise.
This season, Wise, 23, and Alexandra, 20, traveled together on the ski circuit along with their 2-year-old daughter, Nayeli. Before that, they would go long periods at a time without seeing one another.
Speaking on why they kept with the sport, Alexandra said, "This is David's dream. This is what he's made for. This is his destiny." Asked if she can imagine what a gold medal will mean for the young family, she added, "I'm pretty certain it's going to change a lot in our lives."
In Sochi, under the elements, the family held a sign plastered with a picture of Nayeli. Her dad's name was scribbled on her photographed cheeks. She would have to watch reruns of dad from home in Reno with her grandmother.
Alexandra, who had talked to her daughter hours prior on the phone, asked what message she should relay.
"She muttered something garbled and not understandable," Alexandra said. But, she added, she had her own makeshift mittens on — socks out of the laundry — as a gesture of support.
If mom had to translate, what had Nayeli said to her father?
"I miss you. I love you. Kill it. Bring me home a necklace."
And he would. A gold one at that.