Nick Goepper: "The lucky loser"

Following back-to-back X Games gold medals in 2013 and 2014, Nick Goepper failed to qualify in 2015. After a spot opened up due to injury, Goepper was added to the final, and walked away with the gold.

The most dominant slopestyle skier since Tanner Hall, Nick Goepper earned his third straight X Games Aspen Slopestyle gold in 2015. In a discipline previously known for its parity, Goepper has been a cut above.

But some cried foul over Goepper's XG 2015 gold. Or just cried. Goepper was a "lucky loser" -- he didn't originally qualify for the Final. During Elimination, Goepper says overconfidence led to a lackluster performance. He placed ninth, and only the top eight advanced to the Final. "I was absolutely devastated," Goepper says now, 11 months later. "I knew I was capable of better."

He had a chance to prove it when Alex Beaulieu-Marchand (ABM, who placed seventh in Elimination) withdrew with a knee injury. According to the rules, ABM's drop promoted Goepper to the Final. Slotted eighth, Goepper was the first finalist to ski. He laid down a 93.66 heater that climaxed with a leftside triple cork 1440 mute. His run wasn't topped in the subsequent 21 attempts (for those doing the math, Henrik Harlaut only took one pass). Goepper got gold, but some unfamiliar with the rules griped about its legitimacy.

Brett Wilhelm/ESPN

Truth is, it's not uncommon for non-qualifiers to make X Games Finals. It happened more than once at Aspen 2015. On rare occasions, promoted athletes even medal. But prior to Goepper, the only "lucky loser" to score gold was wakeboarder Danny Harf (2002). The last time an athlete took X Games gold with the very first run of a competition was in 2010, when Eero Ettala won Men's Snowboard Slopestyle.

Goepper has mixed feelings about the contest. He says ABM could have milked runs in the Final for more AFP points and prize money but chose to open up a spot instead. "It was up to him," Goepper says. "When I got word that he wasn't going to ski, it was bitter-sweet. I was thrilled, but I was bummed out and empathetic for Alex. We've all been in that position."

Then there was the social media fallout. "There were people saying, 'He didn't deserve to win, it was unfair. He didn't actually get to finals the right way.' A lot of people were saying that, and it got to me," Goepper admits. "I was really bummed for [ABM], and I wasn't trying to take advantage. It made winning not feel as good."

Post X Games, Goepper dislocated his left shoulder in mid-February at Red Bull's PlayStreets (slopestyle) in Austria. He aggravated it six weeks later and then, after months of rehab, injured the shoulder again in June during dry land training. He finally chose surgery for his torn labrum and doesn't plan to ski until about two weeks before XG Aspen. He'll be off more than eight months.

The break is something of a relief for Goepper. He moved away from his family in his mid-teens to focus on skiing, and he's been in the spotlight since 2012, when he took XG silver at age 17. "Sometimes I pressure myself to be about skiing 24/7, and I get pretty burned out," he says. "Taking time off put things in perspective. It's not all about skiing and all about being a skier."

In 2016, Goepper plans to spend more time with U.S. Ski Team coaches and teammates. He hopes to reclaim some of the joy of skiing that he had as a child. "I approach contests with such a determined attitude," he says. "It's made me successful, but it also takes away from things that make the X Games the X Games. Things like walking around, going to concerts and festivals and seeing pretty girls. Those are all awesome, and I want to get the most out of it."

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