PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Four years ago, when David Wise won an Olympic gold medal in halfpipe skiing, he was happy with the medal but frustrated with his performance. In his sport’s Olympic debut, Wise did not think that he — or any of his fellow competitors — showed off halfpipe’s full potential.
At the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Wise soared above what many described as a “perfect halfpipe” and won his second Olympic gold.
After his ski popped off on his first two runs, Wise saved his best for last, scoring 97.20 on his third and final run to take over the lead from teammate Alex Ferreira, who consistently improved throughout his runs, scoring 96.00 on his second run, then sealing his silver medal with a 96.40 on his final run.
The 23-year-old Ferreira had watched Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins compete in the team sprint the previous evening and was inspired by their win, the first gold medal ever for the U.S. in cross-country skiing.
“I’m screaming in front of the TV, I’m like, ‘Go, go!’” said Ferreria. “[Jessie] did so well, they both did. It was so cool to watch. That kind of fired me up, that sparked me up. I’m stoked.”
New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, at age 16 possibly the youngest athlete to win an Olympic medal at these Games, threw his best run ever, scoring a 94.80, and surprised even himself. The teen had never before linked four double cork tricks in one run, let alone five.
Wise was happy to win a second Olympic gold medal. But mostly, the 27-year-old father of two was happy with the entire competition.
“I felt like freeskiing won no matter what I did [on my third run],” said Wise. “Seeing Nico land his run, seeing Alex land some of the best runs of his life, hands down, I knew that we had put on the show that the world deserved to see. So I was able to drop in and let it ride.”
Ferreira barely missed the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, and was ecstatic to just be competing in PyeongChang.
“It’s amazing, I’m back, I’m back, baby,” he gushed. “I worked really hard to be here, and I’m just extremely proud to be a part of the event.”
Aaron Blunck and Torin Yater-Wallace, both second-time Olympians, also made the final for Team USA. Blunck, who won the qualifier on Tuesday, finished seventh.
A favorite to win a medal here, Yater-Wallace threw massive air on his first hits, but crashed heavily on his last two runs and was tended by team doctors after the event. The extent of his injuries was not made public. He ended up ninth.
For Wise, the Olympic gold medal was a huge reward after four years of life struggles. Not only has he dealt with injures (shoulder and back, and three concussions), but he and his wife, Alexandra, also faced sadness. Alexandra lost her father and Wise’s older sister Christy lost her leg in a boating accident.
The Wises also had their second child a few months after the Sochi Games, and Alexandra faced postpartum depression and the task of raising two small children alone while Wise was away on media and sponsor obligations.
The list continued. But Wise began to find his old self earlier this season. He made the 2018 Olympic Team by winning two Olympic qualifiers. Then he won the 2018 X Games before coming to PyeongChang. It was his first X Games win since before the Sochi Games.
He carried that momentum to PyeongChang. But winning was far from his mind. Mostly, he was just happy to be here.
“This is the most satisfying competition I’ve ever had,” he said. “Just making the team after the hard couple years that I had between Sochi and here, I felt like was a lifetime accomplishment. I was over the moon just to be on the team, back at the Olympics.”
Ferreira also struggled after Sochi. He grew up skiing with Yater-Wallace in Aspen, Colorado, and was devastated to not make the Olympic team in 2014. But rather than quit, he became more serious about the sport.
“I started taking myself a little bit more professionally,” Ferreira said. “It’s a professional sport, and I wanted to do well, and I wanted my friends to do well. I want to carry myself highly and be a good representative for the younger kids coming up.”
He also credited his friend with his success.
“I would not be where I am today without Torin Yater-Wallace, one of my best friends,” said Ferriera. “I respect him bar none over anybody. He’s a fantastic skier and beyond that a fantastic person.”
To commemorate their respective journeys to this Games, Wise and Ferreira decided to get tattoos on their left forearms last week in Seoul. They chose the PyeongChang Olympic logo.
“The first part of the symbol means peace and harmony between heaven, man and earth,” explained Ferreira. “The second symbol, the star, means snow and ice sports and snowsports stars.”
“I saw that symbol really big on a wall,” added Wise. “’That’s cool. I might get that.’ Then we looked up the meaning and it was something that really worked for both of us.”
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Back in PyeongChang, as the Olympic halfpipe competition began, Wise’s day did not start out well. He lost his ski on his first two runs, laying down scores of 17.00 and 6.40, respectively. Before his third run, he cranked down the release settings on his bindings.
“I was like, all right, well, my leg is going to come off before my ski does, I’ve had enough of this ski coming off thing,” he said.
Wise also considered backing off one of his double corks. In the halfpipe, he throws the trick on both sides of the pipe, in four different directions.
“I mentioned it to the coaches at the top, and they both looked at me and they were like, that’s not who you are, man. You’re here to create,” said Wise. “So I went for it, all four doubs, landed it, and I’m just over the moon. Absolutely, it was the best run of my life.”
The Olympic halfpipe king was rewarded for his difficult run, scoring 97.20.
Ferreira was leading after each of the first two runs with scores of 92.60 and 96.00. While he was unable to beat Wise’s final run, he continued to one-up himself, scoring 96.40 in his third run. After finishing second in the 2018 X Games and in the final Olympic qualifier in mid-January, Ferrerira was thrilled to add another silver medal to his collection — this one an Olympic medal.
In the post-competition press conference, both Wise and Ferreira called PyeongChang an amazing trip. They had walked into the Opening Ceremony together — the only two halfpipe skiers to attend the ceremony.
Then they hopped on a plane and skied chest-deep powder in Japan for four days.
“Then we flew back here and experienced skiing in the best halfpipe that I’ve ever skied in my life,” said Wise. “So that’s my synopsis.”
“And we’re on the podium,” added Ferreira.
“Oh yeah,” continued Wise. “That last little thing.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games; PyeongChang is her fifth. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.