By Nick Mulvenney
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Joss Christensen led a United States podium sweep in spectacular fashion to win the first Olympic gold medal in men's slopestyle skiing at the Sochi Games on Thursday.
Another bumper crowd at Extreme Park were treated to a thrilling display of acrobatics as the freestyle skiers pushed their routines to the limits against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and blue skies.
Christensen led the pack after qualifying and his 95.80 on his opening run of the final, which he capped with a stunning switch triple-corked 1440, assured him of the title even before his second attempt.
Reflecting the have-a-go spirit of the sport, though, the 22-year-old nailed another spectacular flurry of flips, spins and tricks for a score of 93.80, which would have been enough for gold in itself.
"I can't really believe it right now, this is pretty crazy. It has been just an amazing day," said Christensen.
"I am shocked. I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it!"
Gus Kenworthy took silver with a score of 93.60 on his second run after falling in his first, while teenager Nick Goepper, the pre-competition Favorite, settled for bronze with 92.40.
Despite being encumbered by all their gear, the beaming minor medalists managed to lift Christensen into the air on an improvised chair to celebrate only the third U.S. podium sweep at the Winter Olympics.
"I am so stoked about an American one-two-three," said Kenworthy.
"Nick is always the guy to kind of beat in a contest, he is so consistent and so incredible and Joss is really killing it right now. He is one of my best friends and I am stoked."
It was a third gold medal for the United States in slopestyle after Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson won the snowboarding events, which were also making their debut at the Sochi Games.
Goepper, who won the last two X-Games titles in slopestyle, reflected a general consensus that the skiers had taken the sport to a whole new level in Sochi.
"I feel amazing," said the 19-year-old. "It think today was the best display of skiing we have ever seen in our sport, so I am so happy."
While Christensen learned his tricks on the best facilities in the world in his home town of Park City, Utah, James Woods had to make do with a dry slope in the unglamorous British industrial city of Sheffield.
Woods made it through to the final in third place but, hampered by a hip injury he sustained in a crash last week, was unable to produce the sort of triple-cork trick that might have delivered Britain their second Olympic medal on the snow.
"I can do triples. I've got them," said Woods, who finished fifth behind Norway's Andreas Haatveit.
"I got slammed in practice and, to be honest, on any other regular occasion, there is no way I would be anywhere near my boots and my skis at the moment.
"But I am incredibly proud to be here in such an immense final. It's the Olympics and Joss is the nicest guy on the face of the earth, so I couldn't be happier for anyone else."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)