When the world tunes in to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics, one of the events they will be witnessing, slopestyle, is going to be new to the Olympic stage. For 19-year-old United States freestyle skier Nick Goepper, however, it is an event that he has been competing in for the past few years as he tries to bring home gold for the U.S.A.
“It’s a lot like skateboarding. It has a lot of the same elements,” Goepper told FanSided.com as he promoted the JIF “What If” campaign.
“It’s a big long run with different obstacles ranging from jumps to rails. You have to grind the rails, fly off the jumps and do a bunch of spins and flips and try to land on your feet.”
Goepper is the two-time defending X Games gold medalist in ski slopestyle, so he enters the Sochi Games as one of the favorites to bring home the biggest prize.
While Goepper has the talent to become one of the brightest stars on the United States Olympic team, he comes from a modest background in the Midwest that allowed him to grow up as a hard-working kid who is ready to live out his dream.
“I think my Midwest roots are my strongest asset as I continue my skiing career,” Goepper commented.
The busy travel schedule for competition keeps Goepper on the go and away from his hometown, but when he finally gets to return to Lawrenceburg, Indiana there is a sense of comfort and familiarity that allows him to keep everything in perspective.
“Going home and hanging out in Indiana is probably my favorite part of all the traveling, especially being back in my hometown,” said Goepper. “I have more fun there than anywhere else in the world.
“My family and friends help me out the most, because they don’t make fun of me constantly and don’t make me feel like I’m a big deal and it’s awesome. Going back to Indiana and seeing people back there just makes me appreciate where I come from.”
You may wonder how a kid from the Midwest grew up to be one of the top winter sports athletes in the world, but he started hitting the slopes at five years old before a talk changed his life and allowed him to understand his dream could become a reality.
It is that background story that made Goepper a perfect fit for the “What If?” campaign, which is all about dreaming big, imagining the impossible, then pushing yourself to achieve greatness.
“When I was 15, this guy sat me down and talked to me. He said, ‘hey man, all those guys you see in magazines, they are going to be your best friends in about six months.’ I think I just broke down and cried, because it was like my dream is coming to life,” Goepper recalled.
It was that same year that the biggest breakthrough of Goepper’s career came about, when he received the opportunity of a lifetime to pick up and move to Oregon where he could continue to develop as an athlete and open more doors for his career at Windells Academy.
“I was 15 years old and I was in Indiana trying to figure out what I was going to do with my career because there was no way in heck I wanted to stay in the Midwest for another season, so my parents branched out and used the contacts I had in the skiing world,” he said.
“We came across a coach out of Maine who directed us to an opportunity with a guy from Park City, Utah, Carey Miller, who was a big industry guru and was in the sport because he loved it. He was an older gentleman, around 60 years old, and had the means to support young athletes — like a walking sponsorship.
“So I met up with him in Ohio one summer and he directed me to Windells Academy out in Oregon, where I was able to get a full scholarship to go to high school for about two-and-a-half years and that opened up a ton of doors for me.”
From there Goepper continued to blossom as an elite freestyle skier before going on to win gold medals in the X Games, Dew Tour and 2013 New Zealand Winter Games.
But with the biggest competition of his life coming up, Goepper was faced with a decision on whether or not to defend his gold medal at the X Games or solely focus on preparing for Sochi.
In the end, it wasn’t a tough decision for Goepper who wanted to compete against the best who he would be seeing once again in a few weeks.
“I think the X Games was the best thing for me to prepare for Sochi, because pretty much the same competitors that were at the X Games will be in Sochi and I wanted to go up against that same level of talent,” he stated.
Goepper successfully defended his gold medal which allowed him to be considered a favorite for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but with those expectations could bring some added pressure.
However, Goepper remains grounded and uses his status as a top competitor as extra motivation, and not a heavy weight on his shoulders.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “That expectation helps me, because it shows there are a lot of people who believe in me that I have the ability to go out and do well, so if anything it is encouraging.
“I just want to go out and keep my eye on the prize.”
Goepper’s focus entering Sochi is clear and that was once again on display when I asked him about any potential distractions or concerns that are surrounding Sochi due to the political issues and security concerns.
“I’m there to do one thing and that is to ski and have fun,” Goepper said.
“The security and politics surrounding the games aren’t really of my concern. I believe I will be fully save in the village and I will make smart decisions.”
If there was one concern about being away from home, it may just be what to eat. For that, Goepper is counting on some people to provide comfort food.
“Hopefully the American support will be able to provide some cheeseburgers,” he joked.
With the razor-like focus and excitement that he has shown entering the competition, Goepper certainly has the ability to make the question, “what if?” become a reality like he has already been able to do with any obstacle he has faced in his young life.
He believed in being the best he can be, made his own Olympic goals and through hard work and discipline, he made his dream come true.
So “what if” Goepper is able to top the podium in Sochi and bring home a gold for the United States?
“It would mean the world to me,” he said. “It would catapult my career to new heights and open all sorts of new opportunities.”
The men’s ski slopestyle qualification and finals will take place on the same day on Feb. 13, and Goepper is ready to entertain the crowd as he shows why he is one of the best in the world.
“Expect a show out of the whole thing,” he said in closing. “It’s going to be a pretty intense day of competition.”