KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Linda Goepper surveyed the glorious scene before her, the cloudless azure skies, the craggy mountains in the background, the late-morning sun warming her face.
It was about an hour before her son, Nick Goepper of Lawrenceburg, Ind., began his practice runs, and Linda and her family knew it would be good.
"This is excellent for him; this is perfect,'' she said, standing with her husband, Chris, their three children and other friends and family members. "A little warm, very sunny, a bluebird day. The snow is kind of slow, which we're used to where we live. It's like it was designed for Nick.''
Goepper came into the competition as a gold-medal favorite, but he's not going to blanch at bronze, not after the United States men went 1-2-3 in this event. He scored 92.40 points on his first finals run, then held on to third place as one competitor after another came up short.
"My heart was beating hard,'' Linda Goepper said with a laugh. "I'm so happy for him. He's worked so hard for this.''
Goepper came into the post-competition press conference with an American flag draped over his shoulder. He still wore his helmet (which would make his mother happy). If he was downcast, he put on a good front.
Yes, he wanted to win Olympic gold, but this was an amazing honor for a kid from Southern Indiana. While the gold and silver medals come from Utah and Colorado, Goepper grew up in a place where the Perfect North "mountain'' stands just 400 feet.
"I definitely wouldn't say I'm disappointed,'' Goepper said. "Today is an amazing day for me, my country and my family and I thank God for this blessing.
"It's a learning experience. I definitely wanted to win today; that was the No. 1 goal. But I want to go to at least two more Olympics and I've got high aspirations to continue my skiing career and do lots of other things, like give back.''
With TV cameras in their face the entire day and Jenna Bush by their side (don't ask why), the Goeppers lived and died with every heart-wrenching moment Thursday. Goepper started unsteadily, crashing out in his first qualification run. He made things right with his second run, easily placing himself in the final.
"I put some pressure on myself,'' he said. "I'm just so happy that I completed my second run. I was just praying. The nerves were going crazy. I had a thousand butterflies in my stomach. To put one down, I'm just so stoked. I just trusted my body and let it do the work.''
He took that personal momentum into his first run in the finals, laying down a 92.40. After it happened, Linda raised her arms to the heavens. Chris high-fived anybody in the area. As Nick eventually passed through the mixed zone and came within earshot of his parents, Chris yelled, "Way to adjust. That a-baby.'
The score held up as one skier after another after another tried to produce a competitive score. The Goeppers could hardly breathe. It was like sitting in the golf clubhouse after posting a good score, hoping the guy on No. 17 wasn't about to go birdie-birdie and send it to a playoff.
It is a remarkable story, really. A kid from Southern Indiana? In a winter sport and especially one like slopestyle skiing? This is like Kansas producing a world-class surfer. The state may be gripped in the jaws of the polar vortex – did we mention it's 50-plus degrees here? – but Indiana isn't exactly a mountainous winter wonderland.
And yet, Goepper jerry-rigged jumps and other obstacles at his family home, even skiing down the roof of his house as a kid.
"He always did crazy things but he was never reckless about it,'' Linda Goepper said. "Whenever he was doing something crazy like skiing off the deck, there were always huge piles of snow, so it was well thought out. And we made sure he always wore a helmet. That was required. There were many times when his scooter was on his dad's workbench because he wouldn't wear his helmet.
"I tried to look the other way and not pay attention to what he was doing. That was my way of parenting. I didn't worry about it. I sort of ignored it and if they yelled for me, then it was a problem.
"I see parents in all these other sports running their kids to the emergency room. We had to do it just once, when he was 10 or 11, we were leaving a soccer game, had to go to the bathroom and he tried to leap over a bunch of rocks as a shortcut. He fell short into the rocks and busted up his knee, but other than that, nothing major.''
The Goeppers knew they had a little daredevil in their midst almost immediately.
"From a very young age, he did things other kids didn't do,'' she said. "He has a sense of balance that's incredible. Instead of standing on a little stepstool to wash his hands, he'd jump up on the sink and balance there on his toes.
"I remember a gymnastics class, he was five, his sister was three and he was watching her in class, and all of a sudden he went boom and did a full backflip. He'd never done it before. It scared me to death.''
Come Thursday, in a venue half a world a way from Lawrenceburg, Goepper produced on the globe's biggest stage. He didn't make personal history, but him and his two American teammates completed just the third ever American sweep at a Winter Games. That's more than enough for now.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BKravitz.