This U.S. Skier Got Almost No Sleep — and Had the Fire Alarm Go Off — the Night Before He Won Silver
"The fact that it came all the way down to the third and final run was incredibly nerve-wracking, and I really had to dig deep to execute flawlessly"
Goepper, 23, was a returning medalist in the men’s slopestyle event, where he won bronze at the Russian Games four years ago. He’d managed that competition with basically no sleep the night before, he tells PEOPLE, and it wasn’t an experience he was looking to repeat.
No such luck.
“My first Olympics, I got like zero sleep before the event — I pretty much just laid in my bed all night because I was so nervous,” Goepper recalled on Tuesday in the mountains of Pyeongchang. “I was like, ‘Alright I’m going to wake up super early the day before so I’m tired, I can go to bed later that night.’ But it happened again. I mean I don’t know how it possibly could — I just don’t know like physically how it can do that. I felt like I was tired, but the night before the event I was just up all night long.”
He tossed and he turned and he could not sleep, managing only a “little bit of shut-eye” — and then someone pulled the fire alarm in Goepper’s apartment building in the Olympic Village (or at least triggered the fire alarm system).
At first he wondered: Was there really a fire, was this really happening around 1 a.m. the night before the biggest competition of his year? A voice in French, Korean and English urged them to “please evacuate” due to a fire.
“And of course everyone else in our apartment got up and was like walking around like, What’s going on?” Goepper says. “And I thought: Hopefully it’s just an alarm, it’ll turn off soon.” Eventually, it did.
A few hours later, about 6 a.m. Sunday, Goepper got up, had some breakfast and headed to the mountain.
By mid-afternoon, he won another medal in slopestyle — this time a silver, making him the only U.S. man on the podium.
“It feels great, it feels great,” he tells PEOPLE, his medal in a small bag next to him. (As of Tuesday afternoon, he had yet to put it away, partly out of obligation during appearances and partly because he wanted to keep it around.)
The 2022 Games are not far from his mind. “It feels like the middle chapters of a storybook,” Goepper says, looking toward a possible gold medal to add to his other two. “I feel like there’s only one thing left to do, and I want to go do it.”
It was his third and final run that sealed his second-place finish, after uncharacteristically middling performances in the first two, and Goepper says he could feel that everything was coming together as he skied down toward the crowd. He told PEOPLE before he competed that he was excited to show off “smooth, consistent, technical, difficult skiing.”
He capped his last run, off the course’s highest slope, with a triple-cork 1440 trick in which he spun and spun and spun in the air.
“The fact that it came all the way down to the third and final run was incredibly nerve-wracking,” Goepper says. “And I really had to dig deep to execute flawlessly and pull out that silver medal position.”
Goepper mostly keeps to himself during competition, listening to music (at the Olympics it was Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, the first CD his dad ever bought for him) and maybe keeping an eye on the other athletes’ runs — “more than anything,” he says, “I’m just really focusing on that next opportunity.”
“Pandemonium” followed his win, and he didn’t get to have a conversation with his family so much as “shouting and high-fives and hugs.” (They’ve been able to spend far more time together at the Procter & Gamble athlete house, Goepper says; the company is one of his long-time sponsors.)
Off the snow came the media circus: the interviews, the news conference, a late-night appearance on Today.
Once the Olympics officially wrap, there will be some time off for Goepper to go skateboarding or surfing or to drive his truck through the mountains and woods. And, yes, “I actually really want to go skiing again,” he says.
RELATED VIDEO: Gus Kenworthy Talks Bond with Adam Rippon – We’ll Be ‘Friends for Life’ (But We Aren’t Dating)
In a sport that Goepper says has never looked stronger, with a rising bench of international athletes to complement the Americans who have traditionally dominated, having worked through the struggles of coming off a first-time Olympic experience in 2014, his success here at slopestyle has perhaps never been so sweet.
“I feel good,” he says. “I’m tired, I’m excited, I’m happy. My family just left, and I’m just fulfilled. This has been an accomplished Olympics for me, so I definitely have my head held high.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.