Joss Christensen must battle back from major injury to defend Olympic title

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Olympic ski slopestyle champion Joss Christensen landed awkwardly and felt a pop in his right knee while training three weeks ago.

“The first thought in my mind was, it’s over,” Christensen recalled in a phone interview Thursday.

It’s not.

Christensen, one of the biggest surprises of the Sochi Winter Games, suffered a torn ACL and meniscus, plus an MCL sprain in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on May 10.

He underwent surgery May 18 and had another knee scope last Friday due to excess swelling.

He expects to be off snow for the next five and a half months.

The 25-year-old plans to be competition ready around mid-December, right around the start of PyeongChang Olympic qualifying. No more than four men will earn Olympic berths after a series of selection events.

Christensen’s initial fear that he wouldn’t be able to defend his Olympic title in February has given way to a fighter’s spirit.

“I know that a lot of the other skiers are probably counting me out right now,” he said. “This puts me right back where I like to be. There’s no target on my back this time. I’m the underdog again. I just want to prove everyone wrong.”

Christensen was overlooked going into the 2013-14 Olympic season. He finished eighth and 12th at the first two Olympic qualifiers but won the last selection event for Sochi, wrapping up the final U.S. berth.

Christensen then led a U.S. Olympic ski slopestyle podium sweep with Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper.

He dedicated the surprise victory to his father, who had died of a congenital heart problem six months earlier.

Christensen struggled with injuries after Sochi. There were rabies and tetanus shots after a dog bit him in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He broke his left hand and bruised his left knee and suffered cartilage damage at the 2016 Winter X Games.

Christensen underwent left knee surgery last summer and was off snow for four months.

He returned to finish sixth at X Games last January. More importantly, he ranked second among Americans behind McRae Williams.

Christensen said last fall he expected the 2017-18 season to be his last. Now, he’s not as sure.

“My goal right now is I’m going to keep competing as long as I’m getting invited to the contests,” he said.

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