CINCINNATI -- Nick Goepper, following his 2014 path to Olympic stardom, qualified for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics Sunday.
The 23-year-old from the skiing capital of the world – Lawrenceburg, Indiana – became the first slopestyle skier to qualify for the U.S. team in the first of two final qualifying events in Mammoth Mountain, Callfornia.
Punched my ticket to my 2nd Olympics today in Mammoth! I never thought I would be able to say that... I’m excited to represent USA with these lads in a few weeks! 👊🏻🇺🇸 @usfreeskiteampic.twitter.com/aXkKWsMbNi
Goepper, who won the bronze medal at the 2014 Games at Sochi, Russia, brought a big lead in qualifying points into the weekend and secured his trip to South Korea after an eighth-place finish in the first final. His third-place finish in the second final was icing on the cake.
Gus Kenworthy, who took the silver medal at Sochi, also qualified for a return trip to the Olympics.
At 19, Goepper became a social–media celebrity and one of America's darlings at the 2014 Games. That was partly due to his boyish good looks – he posed for pictures with Taylor Swift and courted her in tweets - and partly due to his rags-to-riches success story.
This was Goepper and Swift in a network-sponsored photo at the Golden Globes in 2013.
Goepper was not a typical Olympic dreamer who grew up in the mountains with skis instead of shoes attached to the feet.
Goepper grew up across the highway from modest Perfect North Slopes, the only skiing center in the Tri-State, and honed his trick-skiing skills there and in his own backyard, where he and his dad built an obstacle course. He sold candy bars and did neighborhood chores to pay for ski passes and, eventually, his own skis. His dad drove him hundreds of miles to regional events until he became such a sensation that he was accepted into a prestigious ski academy in Oregon.
Goepper made his first major breakthrough at age 17 when he finished second in the 2012 Winter X Games. Two years later, his second straight gold medal in the X Games made him the Olympic favorite, but he finished behind two other more experienced Americans, Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy, in a U.S. medal sweep at Sochi.
When Goepper came home, he visited WCPO and talked about his experience with Kathrine Nero:
After winning his third straight X Games gold medal in 2015, Goepper hadn't made much noise on the world stage the past two years. Just a few months after Sochi, he suffered a "post-Olympic hangover" and a bout with depression. That led to criminal charges after he turned himself in for throwing rocks at cars in August, 2014. He paid for the damages and went into a diversion program.
Goepper also went through a series of injuries. But he came back strong this season.
No longer the new kid on the block, Goepper and Kenworthy, 26, used their advantage in experience to take a big lead over a new crop of hot young stars in the first four qualifiers for PyeongChang.
Boom! 👊🏻 Landed 2nd today at the Grand Prix in Aspen. One step closer to locking my Olympic spot! These boys skied great. Always a pleasure. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/gSCHiXIMxe
Goepper was second at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado, last month and second at the Snowmass stop in Aspen last weekend.
Because of weather delays throughout the week, Mammoth ended up hosting a pair of Olympic qualifiers on Sunday. Goepper's spot on the team became official when no U.S. men finished on the podium in Sunday's first event.
Kenworthy locked up his spot with a second-place finish in the second event.
McRae Williams, the 2017 world champion, and Alex Hall, a 2016 Youth Olympic silver medalist, tied for third place in the U.S. qualifying standings. Officials are expected to name Williams as a discretionary pick this week.
They might bump Hall to make room for Christensen, the gold-medal winner at Sochi. Christensen tore his ACL last May and came back last week in a last-ditch effort to try to qualify for PyeongChang.
Christensen made the 2014 team as a discretionary pick.