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USA’s Wise becomes first gold medalist in freestyle skiing halfpipe

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — David Wise considers himself a dad and husband first, a freestyle skier second.

That might be why he also became an Olympic champion.

Soaring through sloppy snow and sleet, Wise won the first gold medal in the young sport of halfpipe skiing Tuesday, outclassing a field in Sochi that had trouble with the slow, waterlogged conditions.

Sightlines were less than perfect on the first true soaker of a night at the action-sports venue, but not so bad that Wise couldn’t look down from the top and see his wife, Lexi, and the rest of his family members cheering at the base of the halfpipe.

Many of them were holding big pop-out pictures of his 2-year-old daughter, Nayeli, stapled to wooden sticks.

“To see that face looking back up at me was cool,” Wise said.

After placing a heart-shaped rock Lexi gave him into one pocket, the 23-year-old from Reno, Nev., dropped into the halfpipe and scored a 92 — a mark that held up to beat Canada’s Mike Riddle by 1.4 points.

Kevin Rolland of France took bronze.

That podium pretty much went to form, a fact not lost on Wise or any of the others, who have watched expected results in other action sports at these games get shuffled — partly because of conditions and maybe because of pressure. Shaun White never got comfortable with the tough halfpipe a week ago and finished fourth. Kelly Clark struggled and ended up with bronze, not gold.

“I’ve been watching a lot of favorites lose this Olympics ... seeing how much pressure it can be and how you have to perform, regardless of the conditions or how you’re feeling that day,” Wise said. “It’s kind of sobering, to say the least.”

He had a couple new tricks he wanted to bust out for the Olympics, but because of the conditions, those will have to wait.

Instead, he went with his most dependable jumps: 2 spins; two flips with 3 spins; back-to-back 720-degree spins; then another two-flip, 1260-degree move. Some went 14-15 feet above the halfpipe. Most had fancy grabs of the skis that the judges love. All had rock-solid landings that win gold medals.

“Dave is, right now, on top of the sport,” said his 17-year-old American teammate, Aaron Blunck. “He’s the best. He’s proven it multiple times. He comes out in any condition and has amazing fun. He’s the dad out of the group. So, no matter what he does, we’re proud of him.”

Wise is the winner of three straight Winter X Games titles, which, until now, were the biggest prizes in his trophy case.

All these major victories have come since he got married and became a dad.

He’s a family man — the regular dude in a counter-culture sport — and he’s sure he wouldn’t be this good if it were different.

Riddle’s silver continued a sparkling stretch of freestyle skiing for Canada. Including the 1-2 moguls finish by the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, a 1-2 finish in men’s moguls and some other strong results, the Canadians have won seven medals in the action sports, three of them gold.

This one means a little more, given that it came in the sport the late Sarah Burke of Canada pushed hardest to include in the Olympics. Burke was the freeskiing star who died two years ago after a training accident in the halfpipe.

Though the weather prevented the show from being the best the skiers have ever put on, certainly Burke would’ve appreciated the effort — and all those smiles.

“The whole thing is to just go out there and try to have some fun,” said Blunck, who finished seventh.

Wise had the most fun.

He brought America’s medal total at the Sochi Games to 20 overall, with six golds. Eleven of the medals and five of those golds have come from the action sports, where Wise considers himself a role model.

Seven gold medals were on offer on Day 12 and among the winners were Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway in biathlon, Pierre Vaultier of France in snowboardcross, South Korea in short track relay and Joergen Graabak of Norway in Nordic combined.

HOCKEY

RUSSIA BEATS NORWAY

Russia is playing under immense pressure in Sochi. It did not look strong in the preliminary round, and that was the case against Norway, which hasn’t won an Olympic hockey game since its home Lillehammer Games in 1994. The game was scoreless after one period and 2-0 after two. Russia got two goals from Alexander Radulov and advanced to the quarterfinals against Finland today. Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia also advanced to the quarterfinals.

BIATHLON

FOURCADE DENIED GOLD

Svendsen edged Martin Fourcade of France to win gold in the men’s 15-kilometer mass start biathlon. They both finished in 42 minutes, 29.1 seconds, with Svendsen’s ski crossing the line a fraction ahead. This was Svendsen’s fourth career Olympic medal but first in Sochi. Ondrej Moravec of Czech Republic won bronze for his second medal of the games.

SNOWBOARD

OLYUNIN VICTORIOUS

Vaultier held off Nikolay Olyunin of Russia to win the gold medal in men’s snowboardcross on a chopped-up course slowed by drizzle. Alex Deibold of the U.S., a wax technician for the Americans in Vancouver four years ago, took the bronze. Italy’s Omar Visintin was removed by a stretcher after crashing in the semifinals. The event was pushed back a day because of heavy fog.

SHORT TRACK

SOUTH KOREA TAKES RELAY

South Korea won the 3,000-meter relay, passing China on the last lap to take the lead. Four years ago in Vancouver, the South Koreans finished first, but were disqualified and China got the gold. Italy took the bronze, giving Arianna Fontana her third medal in Sochi.

NORDIC COMBINED

NORWAY SPARKLES

Norway delivered a one-two finish in the Nordic combined large hill. Graabak broke away from a five-man group with about 100 meters left in the cross-country race, finishing six-tenths of a second ahead of Magnus Moan. Fabian Riessle of Germany won the bronze.

CURLING

BRITAIN TO MEET SWEDEN

Britain reached the semifinals in men’s curling by beating Norway 6-5 in a tiebreaker. The game came down to the final shot, and British skip David Murdoch delivered. The British will face Sweden in the semifinals today while Canada plays China.

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