Nick Goepper wraps up Sochi slot

Updated: December 21, 2013, 7:11 PM ET
Associated Press

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. -- When he was a kid in Norway, he told his dad he was going to be a "tricker" -- skiing around mountains doing big tricks for whoever wanted to pay him.

The thought that Andreas Håtveit might be an Olympic gold medalist never crossed his mind.

Turns out, he could end up being both.

The 27-year-old from Norway edged out American Nick Goepper at the U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday -- a result that wrapped up trips to the Olympics for both men on a less-than-ideal day for slopestyle in the Colorado mountains.

"I needed top 12. I aimed for the 11th spot and I came up first," Håtveit said. "Can't believe it."

Indeed, nobody was showing their best stuff because of snowy conditions that slowed down the course and made the most difficult tricks hard to execute.

Håtveit scored a 92.8 on what he thought was a run that would get him "maybe third, on a good day." Instead, he was holding the winner's check, telling people "I can't believe I beat Nick."

Goepper, meanwhile, hadn't been notified of his status until after he left the mountain. Still, he knew the second-place finish put him in very good shape.

"I'm hoping this secures my spot, and if it does, it's all downhill from here," he said. "And then it gets real uphill in February."

On the women's side, Canada's Dara Howell was equally surprised to win.

Her score of 87.6 put her ahead of a trio of Americans: 16-year-old Darian Stevens, six-time X Games medalist Grete Eliassen and 15-year-old Maggie Voisin, who added the fourth-place to a third-place finish last week.

Her victory secure, Howell called her mom.

"She didn't say anything. She was just screaming," Howell said. "I was not expecting to win. Just wanted to come out and do my best. To get my first career win, it was pretty surreal."

Goepper, who grew up skiing on a 300-foot mountain in Indiana, romped to a victory last week at the first Olympic selection event. His second-place finish Saturday came courtesy of an 89.2 on his first trip down the mountain. To win the contest, he needed to improve on that after seeing Haatveit post the 92.8.

But given the conditions -- they forced him to scale down the last jump on his first run from a double flip to a single -- there was no use taking the risk on the second run. An easy call.

"I played it safe, put my feet down and got down in one piece," he said.

Goepper isn't alone in viewing the Olympic opportunity as an unexpected windfall. The sport makes its Olympic debut in Sochi.

When Håtveit was a kid in Norway, slopestyle didn't even exist as a sport, let alone a possible entry on the Olympic program.

Growing up in a ski resort with a population of 46, he started on skis when he was 17 months old.

"My parents, they took me onto the slopes, I carved into the woods, ate it real bad, started crying and I'd get back on my skis over and over every day," Håtveit said. "All I wanted to do was catch air."

The passion carried him through adulthood. This year he skied 312 days. He's hoping for more in 2014. At least a few of them will be on the hill in Sochi.

If, that is, he can pull himself away from the athletes village, where he's well aware of the perks that await.

"It's free McDonalds the whole week," he said. "Chocolate milkshakes, all day, every day."


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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