With the Winter Olympics coming up in just a few months, there are hundreds of athletes from around the globe doing their final prep as they get ready to represent their countries on the biggest stage in sport. One of those athletes is U.S. skier Joss Christensen, who won the first ever gold medal in his sports history! But, that joy quickly took a difficult turn for Christensen, as a major knee injury nearly derailed his career.
Joss Christensen, who is working with leading mint and gum brand Ice Breakers leading up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, 2018, hopes to inspire and rally fans to pursue their #UnicornMoment — which is a personal accomplishment that's meant to come from a boost of confidence to take on challenges.
Following Joss Christensen's near career-ending knee injury, he found something deep in himself to take on the task of coming back harder and stronger, using the same mentality he's sharing with fans through a #UnicornMoment to “break through” on his journey back to the Winter Olympics. We talked with Joss about that journey, among other things, to see some of the difficulties of returning to the slopes and regain his golden edge.
FHM: First and foremost, what is it like to represent your country in the Olympic Games?
Joss Christensen: “The coolest part about being at the Olympic Games is that we’re competing for our flag, we’re competing for the stars and stripes. I’m competing with my teammates, and I want all my teammates to do well, but I also want to succeed since I’m participating in an individual sport. It’s awesome to know we have the support of the whole country behind us and that even if someone in the U.S. watching our event doesn’t know anything about slopestyle, they’re going to be rooting for the American skiers and they want to see our flag at the top of the podium. To be able to represent our country, I feel a lot of honor and pride in that, and I think it gives us a deeper meaning to our sport. It gives us a more significant reason to try our hardest.”
FHM: For you to win the first ever gold in your event in U.S. history had to be both exhilarating and a bit overwhelming, yeah?
Joss Christensen: "Yes, definitely. I think it still hasn’t really hit me that it’s the first ever gold in our sport. I’ve said this many times, I think it’s going to take a few more Olympic Games for me to realize that I was the first to have one. At the same time, it’s really cool to be able to go down in the history books as the ‘first ever’ - it’s really exciting. I’m also excited to see who ends up taking the gold in the next couple of Games. Hopefully I can repeat, but I’m just thrilled to be a part of that list and go down in American history.”
FHM: Can you describe the feeling of standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem with a gold around your neck?
Joss Christensen: “Standing on top of the podium in Russia and watching not just one American flag but all three American flags go up as we took the podium, and the fact that when they played the national anthem it wasn’t just for me, it was for both my teammates, was absolutely amazing. We got to share the moment which was huge. I thought that was so special because usually they play the anthem of just the winner and in this moment we were all able to connect with what we accomplished and connect with each other because we just won a medal for our country and that right now our flag is being honored for slopestyle skiing. That was really amazing to me and one of the moments I’ll never forget in my life, that’s for sure.”
FHM: How have you been preparing to defend your title?
Joss Christensen: “I’ve been trying to approach 2018 as I did 2014. I don’t want to stress myself out too much and put too much pressure on myself to make the team because you never know what’s going to happen. Last time I didn’t put a lot of pressure and ended up making the team and skied better than I thought. For these Games I want to get as much time on the snow as I can before the Olympic qualifiers and not overthink it. I unfortunately missed most of the summer, due to a knee injury, but at this point I’m back to normal, and I’m going to try and pick up where I left off last spring. I want to have fun and not let all the media and drama get to me and ruin my chances of going back and getting another gold medal.”
FHM: You mentioned the knee injury, are you mentally and physically prepared to get back on the slopes?
Joss Christensen: “Yes definitely. I’m more than mentally prepared to get back after sitting here thinking about skiing for the last six and a half months. I’m just so excited to be skiing again. Physically I’m feeling really strong. I definitely don’t want to push it too hard too soon, but I know that it will come back. I’ve been skiing my whole life, it’s just kind of all I’ve really done. This is like riding a bike. Everything’s been coming back to me so fast, I’m feeling really prepared and pretty ready. I’m just trying not to let this injury get to my thoughts and get to my mental game at all.”
FHM: What is the toughest part about rehabbing and getting back out there? I would imagine that practicing patience and taking it day-to-day was tough.
Joss Christensen: “Yeah, definitely. I’d say the hardest part was going to the gym every day this summer — feeling good and feeling ready to go skiing — but knowing that my body wasn’t ready to go ski. So, I had to sit back and watch as everyone else was traveling to go out, hitting competitions and also getting ready for this winter. Luckily, at the same time — getting strong — there’s nothing more important to me really than having a strong body for the season, so I was accomplishing that, I just wasn’t getting much time on snow or with my skis on, which is the hardest part. I’ve learned a lot of patience and to be able to kind of block out everything else that’s going on in the ski world that I don’t need to get envious of people who are skiing or feel like I’m missing out, I just need to focus on what my plans are and what my goals are so I can approach it in the best situation.”
FHM: Can you describe the grueling workouts you’ve done to both recover and to continue to push yourself to the highest level in competition?
Joss Christensen: “Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to have a great support team behind me here in Park City at the U.S. Ski Team Training Center. Every day for five days a week I have physical therapy, work with a sports psychologist, work with my trainer and work the hardest I possibly can and try to push myself to the limit every single day, so I can get as strong as I possibly could as quick as possible with our end goal in sight. It was really hard. A lot of us don’t go to the gym as much as other athletes in other sports do. A lot of training for free skiers is just spending time on snow, so that was the hardest part, just being so far away from the snow. We try and recreate our sport as much as we can in the gym. There’s ski simulators, trampolines, just try and focus a lot on spinning and flipping, and do the best we can without putting my knee in danger. It was challenging and it was definitely grueling, but I knew that every moment in the gym and every tough moment I had was well worth it and was just part of the journey and experience to get back to the snow.”
FHM: Because of your knee did you ever fear that your career was over or did you think about giving up? What got you going?
Joss Christensen: “When I first injured my knee, I knew that when I fell it was pretty messed up, and that I injured it pretty badly. But, I wanted to keep a positive mindset. Unfortunately, I was having a lot of problems for the first three months, so there was definitely a lot of doubt. For a minute there, until about two and a half months ago, skiing wasn’t really even on my mind I just wanted my knee to be normal again. I wasn’t focused on getting back to my skis, I just wanted to focus on having a good knee for the rest of my life. So, that was definitely really hard. I wouldn’t say I ever really gave up, I would just say that my focus changed from getting back to snow as quick as possible to just making sure I had a healthy body that I didn’t regret my decisions later on in life. Luckily enough for me things turned for the better really fast and I was able to return my focus to getting back to skiing and trying to qualify for this really-hard-to-make American Olympic Team.”
FHM: How about Ice Breakers and Team Unicorn? How does the brand and the unicorn mentality apply to what you’re going through right now and what’s to come in the games?
Joss Christensen: “Being a part of Team Unicorn embodies exactly what I’m going through this year. I definitely need as much of an icy boost and as much confidence as I can coming into the season. I really do need a magical moment in order to be able to achieve personal greatness and get back to where I want to be and make this Olympic team. I am really excited that Team Unicorn has such a good motto and I want to help myself and also help all my fans realize that it is possible to do things you don’t think are possible by embracing inner confidence as we face challenges in pursuit of our own dreams - whichever they are! I also want all my fans to share their unicorn moment at #UnicornMoment because you should feel proud to share an accomplishment that a lot of other people don’t realize is hard for you. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes and I love that with Ice Breakers I have the opportunity to share my journey with all my fans. In return I want all my fans to share their journey with me - so share your #UnicornMoment.”
Lead image via Getty.