Casey Andringa celebrates in the freestyle skiing men's moguls final at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 12, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- On the surface, Casey Andringa’s journey to PyeongChang looks like the Olympic dream.
He went from a self-funded mogul skier who had never made the U.S. Ski Team to qualifying for his first Olympic Games.
Then he took full advantage of the opportunity, answering the question that’s written on a sticker on his helmet: “Are you afraid?”
He most definitely was not. On a cold night in PyeongChang’s Phoenix Snow Park, 22-year-old Andringa skied into the first final of 20 mogul skiers. Then he moved into the second final of 12, joy emanating from him on every run.
And in one of the surprises of these Olympic Winter Games, Andringa was the sole American to qualify for the Olympic final of six.
On the bottom air, he threw a trick he had never done in competition: a cork 10 truck driver (an off-axis rotation with a grab). He knew he had to up his level of difficulty if he wanted to win an Olympic medal.
“I’d rather go for broke and miss it rather than lay one up and be sitting in fourth because I had more to give,” Andringa said.
He could not quite pull off the landing and ended up fifth. Still, he was thrilled.
“It feels pretty [darn] good,” he exclaimed. “I really have had such a fun day. I woke up this morning and was like that’s what I want to do today, I want to have fun.”
Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury, a king of moguls and the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, won his first Olympic gold medal with a score of 86.63. Matt Graham from Australia claimed silver with an 82.57. Japan’s Daichi Hara rounded out the medals with an 82.19.
But Andringa’s dream has also been a nightmare. Since first deciding — at age 2 — that moguls was his sport (after watching Jonny Moseley win a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games), Andringa has continually come up against obstacles.
One of them almost took his life.
In 2014, while training with Ski Club Vail in Switzerland, Andringa’s face puffed up. The diagnosis: a rare infection called orbital cellulitis. It’s an infection of the orbital membrane, and up to 11 percent of patients lose their vision. It can also be fatal. (Only those with a strong stomach should Google the condition.) Andringa also developed meningitis.
He recovered. But then he tore the meniscus in his knee. He had torn the other meniscus a year earlier.
Each setback kept him off the U.S. Ski Team.
“There were points when everything seemed to be pointing to me to be done,” he said. “I just kept getting so close to making the national team, then something would happen. Even last season, I had my best season ever and still went unnamed to the team. It definitely beat me down a little bit.”
Andringa was ready to call it quits. Perhaps it was time to focus on his marketing degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
But his dad, Jeff, sat him down and said, “You know what level you’re at, and you’ve come this far. To give up now, you’ll regret it the rest of your life.”
Was he afraid?
Andringa said no, but he needed to remove himself from distractions. He’s a social person who loves hanging out with his friends. He knew he had to “do something extreme” if he wanted to make it.
His dad found an old pop-up camper on Craigslist and asked Andringa’s younger brother, Jesse, to pick it up with him. Jesse is 20 years old and also a mogul skier.
Jesse called it a “Jeff move.”
Then Jesse, too, moved into the camper. For three months over the summer, it was their home. They traveled to train in Whistler, British Columbia, Mt. Hood in Oregon, and California. Then they parked it in the woods outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where they did the bulk of their summer training. They bought cans of tuna, a 10-pound bag of rice, and lots of oatmeal.
“It was cheap, and it made the best out of us,” said Jesse, who traveled from a moguls competition in Killington, Vermont, to watch his brother compete in PyeongChang. “All we did was train, eat well and go to bed early.”
For Casey, it was “the extra whatever else” he needed in his training.
“You’re not going to go live in the woods just with your brother for two months and [mess] around,” he said. “You’re going to focus in.”
The camper ended up being a highlight for both brothers.
“We got back to Boulder after two months of living in this camper in Steamboat in the woods, and we thought we were going to be so over it,” said Jesse. “Two days later, we were like take us back. We want it more.”
The Olympics, meanwhile, were a far off goal. Andringa knew there were “a jillion steps” that had to all go right.
Somehow Andringa marched up those steps without missing one.
While the U.S. moguls team began the world cup tour in December in Finland, the Andringa brothers competed in a U.S. freestyle selection event in Winter Park, Colorado. Casey won the two moguls competitions (while Jesse finished third in dual moguls).
Casey’s goal was simply to make his first world cup.
“I just wanted to ski under the lights at Deer Valley,” he said. “Then I got invited to Calgary and I did well.”
Then it hit him. He was in the running for the 2018 Olympic Team.
When he learned that he had made it, he called his dad.
“He had to pull the car over so he wouldn’t crash because he started crying, and I started crying,” said Andringa. “It was a whole mess.”
Once in PyeongChang, nerves overtook Andringa. He thought he was supposed to be serious and intense and “feel a certain way.” In the first moguls qualifier on Friday, he failed to make the final.
So his Ski Club Vail coach, Riley Campbell, told him to go to Seoul with his friends and family for a day. They just hung out in the city, three hours away from the Olympic venues — and the Olympic pressure.
“It brought back that lightheartedness,” said Andringa. “That’s why I ski moguls. It’s the people, the culture, the places I get to go. I started to lose sight of it. That put me in better mindset.”
In the second qualifier on Monday night — with his parents, brother, friends and family at the bottom of the course, wearing “Are you afraid?” T-shirts — Andringa skied as if he was having the most fun of anyone. After each run, he raised his arms and he smiled. And he laughed with Campbell.
“It’s so ridiculous that we’re both here, at the Olympics,” said Andringa. “He’s seen me through so many hard times, he’s coached me through so many difficult circumstances.”
The final run did not go as well as Andringa hoped. But he knew it would be a stretch — an Olympic rookie who had never been on the national team competing against Olympic veterans like Kingsbury.
“I wanted to be on the podium,” he said. “But this was everything I could ask for.”
Andringa hopes his Olympic debut will give him confidence going forward — through the season’s remaining world cup competitions and the next Olympic Games.
“I’m just getting started,” he said.
Also competing for Team USA in men’s moguls, first-time Olympian Troy Murphy finished 17th. Brad Wilson, competing in his second Olympic Games, was one place behind in 18th. Emerson Smith, also in his first Games, was 23rd.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.