KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – David Wise says he holds it down for the “rad dad” club as an action sports athlete with a wife and daughter.
He joined another movement by winning the first Olympic halfpipe skiing title Tuesday, one that’s keeping the U.S. among the most successful nations into the second week of the Winter Games.
Wise’s 92-point run amid fat, falling snowflakes marked the U.S. Olympic Team’s 20th medal, matching it with the Netherlands’ speed skating teams for the overall lead.
Half of those medals have come from athletes in Winter X Games disciplines, including both American podium finishers Tuesday. Earlier, Alex Deibold won a surprise snowboard cross bronze, extending the U.S.’ hopes of winning a medal on every night of these Games.
Wise’s gold was special in many ways, but he put in this perspective: Wise came to Sochi as the three-time reigning Winter X Games champion and the reigning world champion. Other Olympians under similar circumstances have not fared so well – Shaun White, Hannah Kearney and Kelly Clark at this same Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, to name a few.
“I’ve been watching a lot of favorites lose this Olympics,” Wise, 23, said with the Stars and Stripes draped over his back, “so being part of the whole Olympic experience and seeing how much pressure it can be and how you have to perform regardless of the conditions or how you’re feeling that day, etcetera. It’s kind of sobering, to say the least.
Wise’s winning set of tricks – which he called a watered-down “C” run due to falling snow for the first time at these Winter Olympics – included two double corks. It was still enough to beat silver medalist Mike Riddle of Canada and bronze medalist Kevin Rolland of France.
Wise skied on the same pipe that foiled White and Clark. He prevailed with inspiration on a stick, in his pocket and back home, in The Biggest Little City in the World.
A Stick: Several friends and family members cheered Wise on from the finish area, but the group lacked Wise’s 2-year-old daughter Nayli. Wise’s wife, Lexi, and daughter were able to travel with Wise all season, but Lexi stayed home in Reno, Nev., with grandma, nana and papi this time.
The next best thing, it was decided, was to put her head on a stick, as seen below:
My cousin’s 2-year old daughter made it here in spirit via face on a Popsicle stick. Go @mrDavidWise! pic.twitter.com/hnMRE7WGmm
— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) February 18, 2014
“To see that looking up at me from the bottom of the halfpipe was really cool,” he said.
The words “David” and “Wise” usually adorn the cheeks of Lexi, too, but she made a change for the Olympics. She opted for “Go” and “World.” It’s not an advertisement for Visa.
“The Olympics, to me, it just represents hope, and it represents peace,” Lexi said. “It gives us something to believe in as a world, as a globe.”
His Pocket: Wise has a tradition of collecting heart-shaped rocks when he travels as gifts for Lexi.
She returned the favor in Sochi, passing him a rock from Reno through a friend before the competition Tuesday.
He placed it in the pocket of his ski pants, zipped them up and went down the pipe four times in competition with “a little piece of home” along for the ride.
Back Home: John McKendricks, pastor at Valley View Christian Fellowship in South Reno, watched one of his congregation’s youth directors win gold on his church office computer.
If he tuned in early enough, he could have heard the stadium announcer introduce Wise as a “father, husband and philanthropist.”
McKendricks knows better than anyone how selfless Wise is, having witnessed both Wises help junior high and high school kids overcome drug abuse and depression the last five years. David and Lexi first met at a church camp.
Wise has aspirations to be a pastor, and he and his wife currently lead a group of about 30 teenagers. It’s called the Tribe.
Wise spent two or three nights a week with them, before the busy Olympics run-up, and took them to conferences, on hiking trips and to amusement parks.
“David is one of those rare people with intellect, ability and personality,” said McKendricks, who gave the avid reader Wise the book, “God As Love,” about Russian theology, before his trip to Sochi. “David likes to be an example. He’s a nurturer.”
He said Wise has remained humble despite growing into an action sports star.
For all the hard work Wise puts in training, “he’s just as likely to enter a Big Gulp Slurpee drinking contest with a 13-year-old,” McKendricks said.
Wise plans to take his prize money from the U.S. Olympic Committee, typically $25,000 for a gold medal, and put 10 percent of it into Clean Water Project, his non-profit fund to provide clean drinking water to Malawi.
“Life is not just about your skiing,” Wise said.
But it primarily was for a few sleet-splashed hours Tuesday. Wise prevailed under the pressure of a heavy favorite. Now, he can bring home that rock and a gold medal for his daughter and his youth group to see.
“I came at it with the approach like, hey, I’m as accomplished as I need to be already,” Wise said. “So I just get to go out and put on a show.”