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Skier David Wise Pushing Limits In Quest For Third Olympic Halfpipe Gold

by Karen Rosen

David Wise competes during the men's freestyle skiing halfpipe final at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. 


David Wise is the only man who has ever won an Olympic gold medal in halfpipe skiing, but that’s not something he takes for granted as he goes for three in a row.

“One thing that I constantly reflect on is the fact that both of the gold medals I've already won seem unreal to me,” said Wise, 31. “I don't look back on those days and hype myself up and say, ‘Yeah, I just went out and crushed it and that's mine. I earned it.’ I really have this overwhelming sense of gratitude that it actually happened that way – and I'm kind of surprised.”



Wise said that mindset helps alleviate any pressure he feels as the two-time defending champion going into the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

“Another one would be icing on the cake, but by no means, is it expected,” said Wise, who will begin competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain on Dec. 8. “There's so many things that are outside my control that could come between me and that opportunity, so I'm just taking it one day at a time and trying to stay balanced and level going into it and see how it plays out.”

In 2014, Wise won the inaugural Olympic men’s halfpipe skiing gold in difficult conditions in Sochi. In the years leading into the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018, however, he struggled with injuries and setbacks. 



Wise’s prospects improved when he won his fourth X Games superpipe title in 2018. However, he had a rough start in PyeongChang, qualifying in the fifth drop-in position for the final. 

Shockingly, Wise could not complete either of his first two runs due to a binding malfunction. On his final all-or-nothing run, he made up for the mishaps, scoring a career-best 97.20 points to win. Wise landed double corks – two head-over-heels flips – in all four directions on the impressive run.

“I could have quit after the last Olympics if I wanted to,” Wise said, “but I still had that hunger. I still had that fire to go out there and see what else I could do on skis. And that fire's not going to last forever in the game of halfpipe skiing, but I'm going to be a lifelong skier. And I'm always looking for some new adventure, some new obstacle to overcome, some new task to learn how to do, something that I'm not good at, that I can increase my skill level at.”

He knows that pursuing his goals comes at the expense of his family life. Wise and his wife Alexandra have two children – daughter Nayeli, who just turned 11, and son Malachi, who is three years younger.  

David Wise celebrates with his family after winning gold in the men's freestyle skiing halfpipe final at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. 


“Nobody makes more sacrifice, I think, than my family,” Wise said of the team that supports his professional career. “Because my wife is missing a husband most of the year and my kids are missing their dad most of the time. I miss out on birthdays. I miss out on soccer games. So in one way, maybe it's a motivation for me, to really ski at the very best I can when I'm out here and not slack off.

“But on the other hand, it's really cool to be able to experience this part of my career with my family and have them be able to come along for the ride when they can.”

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, his family will not be able to attend the Beijing Games if he qualifies.

“In the end, if I go to my third Olympics and don't win another medal or have a bad day,” Wise said, “I know they're going to be back home supporting me and they love me no matter what goes down. So that gives me a little bit of extra competitive fire because I don't have anything to prove.”

Wise was only 21 and at the beginning of his competitive pro career when his daughter was born, so both kids have grown up with this lifestyle. 

“I think certainly there's times when my kids wish I had a normal job,” Wise said, “but what's cool about the grind that we do is that when I'm gone, I'm gone, but when I'm home, I can give them a lot more than your typical 9-to-5 work dad could do. So I guess that's my main focus -- quality over quantity.”

The Reno, Nevada, native tries to clear his schedule and turn off his phone when he is home and the family goes camping or on other trips. 

“That makes those long separations a little bit easier to handle because you can remember the good times and they can look forward to the next trip,” Wise said.

After training in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, he’ll spend a week at home, then turn around and fly to Austria. After that, Wise has about 10 days before training resumes in Colorado. While he knows that it would probably be best for his body to just stay home and chill for those 10 days, he’s going to take his kids on a trip to Hawaii for vacation “before the mayhem begins.”

“For me, it's way more important that my family's happy and healthy than that I'm the absolute best skier of all time,” he said.

Or maybe Wise can have both. He’s still testing the limits of what his body can do, innovating to push the boundaries of his sport.

“When I was growing up skiing, it was the highest honor for somebody to tell you you did something ‘steasy,’” Wise said. ‘That's a combination of the words ‘style’ and ‘ease.’ Stease. So if you do something hard, but make it look easy, it's usually steasy.”

His ski company, Moment Skis, has nicknamed him the Ski Test Dummy “because I have a tendency to break more equipment than anybody else,” said Wise. 

He brings between four and 10 pairs of skis on the road depending on the length trip and what conditions are expected.

And while Wise emphasizes that “philosophically I don't feel any pressure,” it sometimes catches him off guard. “When I'm training and I'm not accomplishing as much as I expected to on that given day, or I'm struggling with one trick or another, that's when that pressure starts to creep in,” he said. “I'm like, ‘Oh no, I'm not the best I could possibly be in this moment.’”

But Wise knows that his faith and his family will keep him grounded “during crazy times of your life like we’re about to have.”

During his more than a decade in the sport, Wise has grown, well, wise beyond his years.

“I think one of the most vital things for any athlete is to surround yourself with people who care about who you are, not what you do,” Wise said. “And I've been very fortunate. Obviously, I got married young, so I've had a wife by my side for most of my career, but I've also had some low times in my career where people who pretended to be my friends when I was winning things suddenly disappeared. 

“And it's been kind of vital for me because I've been able to weed out the people and the influences who just want to take from me and don't want to give anything back.”

He said most of his close friendships now are people who love him for who is, not what he has has done on a pair of skis.

“I guess the nice thing for me in my career now is that I don't have anything left that I need to prove, whether we're talking about proving to other people or proving even to my myself,” Wise said. “If I had to quit skiing tomorrow competitively, I wouldn't feel like I was dissatisfied. I've had an amazing career to this point.”

But he added, “When I take the time to sit back and think about it, how cool it would be to have a career where I won three Olympic gold medals in a row. I don't feel any pressure to do that, but man, that would be cool.”.

Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to since 2009.