Family man Wise gets gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- David Wise has an image problem.
That has been the knock on him from inside the action sports industry, a rationalization for his lack of magazine covers, big-sponsor support and name recognition. When reporters from major media outlets have flown to his home in Reno, Nev., looking to bring his story to the mainstream, it is his lack of cool, not his contest results, that they come to cover.
Wise emerged seemingly out of nowhere to dominate ski halfpipe contests three years ago and is the first athlete since Tanner Hall to win the X Games in Ski SuperPipe three years in a row (2012-14), yet he is not a huge draw on social media or even close to the most popular skier at events. He is called too vanilla, too square, too much of a homebody. He's 23. He's a husband. He's a father to 2-year-old daughter Nayeli. And in the lead-up to the Olympics, he did a Pampers commercial. His Twitter handle has "Mr." in it, for goodness sake.
"I think a lot of people look at me and say I'm counter culture to freeskiing," Wise said. "But my friends in skiing wouldn't say that. I hope they'd say I'm representing the sport well."
For many of the same reasons he has been a tough sell inside the sport, America is about to fall in love with Mr. David Wise. And after becoming the first ski halfpipe gold medalist in Olympic history Tuesday night, he's about to bring his sport to the masses.
"It's great for our sports to have a representative like David out there," U.S. freeski and snowboard head coach Mike Jankowski said. "It shows you don't have to be cookie-cutter or have this rebel image to be the best in the world. It takes nothing away from how great it is to also have a representative like Sage Kotsenburg, who has 50-year-old people out there saying, 'Spoice.' But when Dave gets out there, people will see a different side to our sports. They'll see there isn't just one way to the top."
So far, the face of freeskiing at the Sochi Olympics has been the U.S. trio of Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper, the baby-faced athletes who swept the podium in slopestyle and then began stealing the hearts of teenaged girls back home. On Valentine's Day, while Goepper was holding a Twitter contest to win a post-Olympic date with him, and Kenworthy was rescuing puppies, Wise was posting love notes to his wife Lexi on Instagram with the hashtags #sappyromantic and #love. He represents a clandestine sect of action sports athletes who play hard all day and sleep all night.
"David's been good for a while, but since he doesn't live in Colorado and doesn't party, he doesn't get the offers other guys get," said his older sister, Christy Wise, a pilot in the Air Force. "But I think a lot of opportunities are coming his way."
Wise is also calculated where others improvise. Case in point: Kotsenburg had never even tried the trick he landed to win snowboard slopestyle gold -- a backside 1620 Japan -- before he threw it out in finals. Then he said he couldn't believe the judges rewarded his creativity and technicality over his competitors' triple corks. That blend of daring and humility wins over fans and competitors and stands in stark comparison to the uber-calculated Wise, who prepared and practiced four different finals runs, knowing the weather conditions in Sochi were unpredictable. After the event, he told reporters the run he won gold with was his "Plan C or D," a comment that surely ribbed his fellow skiers.
"David has been misunderstood by a lot of people and this is an opportunity to show that he's not just out here for himself and he's not conceited," said Lexi, who flew to Sochi with David's parents and twin sisters and, after a long season of travel, decided to leave Nayeli home with Nana. "He's a spokesman and he wants to represent his sport and his country, but also his town, his family, his friends. I think the world needs to see more people like David. We drink. We go out. We dance. We have a good time. But it's not our lifestyle to do that every day, and we don't look down on those who do."
Turns out, the perception of Mr. Wise may already be changing for the better. Especially with younger skiers less hardened to what they believe the image of an action sports star should be. His three teenaged teammates on the freeski halfpipe team -- Aaron Blunck, Lyman Currier and Torin Yater-Wallace -- refer to Wise as "Dad." That has as much to do with their respect for him as an athlete and mentor as the fact that he is the only young father on tour.
So far, the Sochi Olympics have produced several surprise American gold medalists in action sports -- Kaitlyn Farrington, Christensen, Kotsenburg -- and they are all young, fun and marketable. They're also single and kid-free. In an Olympics that saw action sports' most famous athlete, the uber-competitive Shaun White, fail to make a podium, the athletes who did are being billed as a refreshing change. And while they lock up the section of Madison Avenue looking to link arms with laid-back athletes living rock-star lives, Wise is certain to snag his share of the post-Olympic pie.
"David is living the all-American dream. He has a wife and a daughter. He's a philanthropist and he's very successful in competition at a young age," longtime freeski analyst Chris Ernst said. "That gives a whole different look to marketers who are going after a wholesome athlete. Maybe he's the first athlete on a Wheaties box with his family."
Sure, the Olympics are ripe with wholesome athletes, but Wise is a squeaky-clean gold medalist in one of the most popular and newest sports at the Games. In the mainstream, he is considered cool by virtue of the sport in which he competes; standing out in the coolest crowd in Sochi and being one of the few U.S. athletes to live up to pre-Olympic hype only compounds his cool. And it just might make him the most marketable guy in Sochi.