Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.
At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Joss Christensen put on a dazzling show.
In the Olympic debut of slopestyle skiing, the then-22-year-old from Park City, Utah, was so terrific that his two best runs in the final would have been good enough for both gold and silver.
Christensen led a U.S. sweep of the event and said afterward he was “shocked” but so happy to be on the podium with teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper.
Now, with the next Winter Games in PyeongChang rapidly approaching in February, Christensen is focused on just one thing: making the U.S. team again. That could be easier said than done, as Christensen only returned to snow in late November from injuries to his knee in May that included a torn ACL and torn meniscus.
As of now, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to defend his title. He must first qualify for the team.
“My focus right now is just to get my skiing where I want it to be,” said Christensen, who just turned 26. The idea is to ski as much as possible — while not pushing himself so hard that he’ll hurt himself.
He missed the first qualifying event this season in mid-December but hopes to ski in the next four in January, which take place at Aspen Snowmass in Colorado and Mammoth Mountain in California. He’s also scheduled to ski in the X Games after those events, but his primary mission is to ski well in the qualifiers.
“I need to at least get one podium at one of the four events,” he said.
His first time back on the snow on Nov. 24 was just a baby step.
“I went up and took three runs on the kids’ hill and then went home and didn’t ski for a couple more days,” he said.
In order to regain his form in time to make the team, he says he’ll have to ski a fine line in his practice sessions and competitions.
“I just need to manage how much time I do spend on skis and manage my swelling and make sure I don’t overdo it, because I’m trying to fit so much into such a short timeline,” he said. “We’re definitely pushing it, but you don’t want to push it too hard to the point where my knee won’t work at all. It’s been tough to find a balance between skiing — I try to ski every day — but I have to take a couple of days off a week and need to pick and choose when I go hard on my skis and when I take time off. That’s hard to do when I have about three weeks before my next competition.”
Christensen was able to work hard over the summer and early fall, so he feels good physically to ski well.
“I just need to get my confidence back up and … just work back into my tricks,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I just really don’t want to hurt myself again, so I’m trying to take any precaution I can to stay safe.”
When he suffered his knee injuries in May, he said recently that he felt a “huge explosion” in his knee and knew immediately he was hurt seriously. At that point, he wondered if his Olympic hopes for PyeongChang were dead.
Now back, he certainly feels he has the ability to ski well in January, finish in the top three in at least one stop and earn his ticket to a second Olympics.
“Definitely,” he said. “Crazier things have happened.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.