The favourite heading into the inaugural Olympic ski halfpipe competition at Sochi 2014, David Wise did not disappoint, producing a sublime run in heavy snow to take his place in Winter Games history. Four years later in PyeongChang, at the age of 27, the US skier repeated the trick thanks to a stunning third run, remaining the event’s only Olympic champion.
David Wise grew up in a family of winter sports enthusiasts in the Nevada town of Reno, not far from California’s popular ski resorts. On skis from the age of three, he developed a love of jumping, be it on the trampoline in his back garden or on the Sierra Nevada slopes. After joining a local freestyle skiing team at the age of 11, the youngster discovered the halfpipe event, in which he began to compete at junior level.
Excelling at his chosen discipline, Wise was crowned US champion at the age of 15 and made his FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup debut three years later. In 2009, he became the first skier to land the double cork 1260, a trick that would become his signature move.
Having captured the halfpipe titles in the 2012 World Cup and at the 2013 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in Voss (NOR), the American athlete also claimed a record three successive Winter X Games crowns in Aspen (USA) between 2012 and 2014.
In 2011, the International Olympic Committee confirmed that ski halfpipe would be included in the freestyle programme at Sochi 2014, thereby bringing Wise’s dreams of Olympic glory one step closer. Upon arriving in Russia three years later, he could not hide his delight. “It’s crazy!” he said. “You look forward to something for so long…and it’s so far in the future and then, ‘Oh, we’re in Russia. Oh, here’s our first practice day. Oh, wow, we’re competing.’ And then all of a sudden, it’s over.”
On 18 February 2014, in difficult, snowy conditions at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Wise dug deep to prevail in the Olympic halfpipe final, producing a resilient first run that featured two double corks, including one of his trademark 1260s, and earning a score of 92.00 that his rivals were incapable of trumping. Canada’s Mike Riddle (90.60) and France’s Kevin Rolland (88.60) took silver and bronze.
Once his historic achievement had sunk in, a broad smile spread across his face. “It’s too incredible to be true…Becoming the first halfpipe gold medallist is one of the most insane things imaginable. I’m so fortunate, as the winner gets to represent the sport all over the world, and that idea really excites me.”
Turning his thoughts to his next Olympic adventure, Wise said: “I’m a huge strategist. I like to make plans. I’m excited to play the game again. Where is the sport going to go and who is going to be leading the charge? I’m looking forward to it.”
Wise did not enjoy the best of runs after his Sochi triumph, as he contended with a dip in form and then a string of injuries. The US rider got back to his best, however, as he prepared for PyeongChang 2018, winning a fourth X Games superpipe title in Aspen, his first victory in the event since 2014.
When the time came to defend his Olympic crown, Wise had a scare when he lost a ski on both his opening runs, leaving him in ninth place. With his compatriot Alex Ferreira in the lead, the defending champion showed his coolness under pressure on his final run, landing a switch double cork 1080 and a double cork 1260 and then repeating the same two tricks to score 97.20 points and maintain his status as the only man to win Olympic ski halfpipe gold.
“Today was an incredible journey,” he said after his victory. “Watching Alex land all his runs and the standard in the qualifiers inspired me. Winning or losing didn’t matter; I just wanted to do a good run. And I managed to do it right when I needed to.”
Very active on social media through his YouTube channel, Wise documented his journey to his second Olympic title and the media marathon that followed as he made his triumphant return to Reno.
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