By Emily Giambalvo | Feb. 19, 2018, 11:23 a.m. (ET)
David Wise (L) and Maddie Bowman speak at a press conferences ahead of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 14, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

 

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Maddie Bowman came to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as a defending Olympic champion. But that gold medal in the halfpipe skiing isn’t something she needs to defend.

That’s what she said fellow U.S. freestyle skier Joss Christensen told her during a press conference at the Team USA Media Summit in September 2017. That medal from Sochi is hers. When she’s not showing it to others, the gold medal rests in a fireproof safe where she lives in California. Nobody can take it away.

Still, with that medal comes pressure, she said, so heading into PyeongChang, Bowman had to adapt her mindset. Prior to Sochi, Bowman said she wanted to win. In PyeongChang, she just hopes to have runs she’s proud of and that she can “use this as an opportunity to keep falling in love with skiing.”

“I want to walk away from my run in the halfpipe with no regrets,” Bowman said.

When halfpipe skiing debuted at the Sochi Games, Team USA landed on top of the men and women’s podiums. The 2014 Olympic champions, Bowman and David Wise, are now back at the Games and will have a chance to medal again. Bowman qualified for her final, which will be held Feb. 20. Wise has qualification that day, followed by the men’s final Feb. 21.

Both Bowman and Wise also won X Games titles last month.

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“From the outside, the expectation is super high,” Wise said. “There's always a lot of hype around it. Everybody wants to know, 'Oh, are you going to defend your gold medal?' That's the question I get most often. For me, my approach is the same as it was last time. I'm not letting those external forces be pressure for me.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned seven medals in freestyle skiing events, including a sweep of the men’s slopestyle podium. Six of Team USA’s medals in 2014 came in the two events making their debut, halfpipe and slopestyle. In PyeongChang, the U.S. now has a chance to replicate that halfpipe success after earning men’s silver in slopestyle thanks to Nick Goepper.

“Our qualifying process is so intense that I think it really makes you sharp enough and you've got to be on it,” Bowman said. “You carry that intensity from the qualifying process right into the Games.”

Earlier in the Games, the U.S. won halfpipe gold medals in both men’s and women’s snowboarding.

Seeing Shaun White’s performance, Wise said, helped spark the Olympic excitement for the U.S. skiers. White earned Team USA its 100th all-time winter Olympic gold medal.

“You get around and you start feeling the moments happen and you get to see it firsthand,” Wise said. “I definitely caught the bug. It was really inspiring and for me. It's just like, OK, the bar is set. Now we get to see if we can match it.” 

Like Bowman, Wise hasn’t fixated on earning another gold medal in 2018. Wise’s wife and two children will be waiting at the end of the halfpipe. His family remains his top priority. Skiing, he said, has become secondary, even when gold medals are in the equation.

“I'm just here to ski the way I want to ski,” Wise said. “I'm going to go out there and enjoy it. Hopefully the cards fall well in my favor, but if they don't, I'm still going to have had the time of my life.”

Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.

For live video and highlights of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, head to the networks of NBC and NBCOlympics.com.