Four years after he earned bronze in the men’s slopestyle event at the Winter Olympics — joining two other Americans in a rare single-nation sweep of the podium — freestyle skier Nick Goepper is back at the Games.
And make no doubt, he is going for the top spot.
Goepper, 23, recently sat down with PEOPLE days before he is set to compete at the PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea. Among other topics, he talked about his plans when he hits the snow again in slopestyle (in which competitors perform a variety of tricks and jumps down a mixed-terrain course, not dissimilar to skateboarding).
“I remember just being not as satisfied as I could have been [in Russia in 2014],” Goepper says, “which is, I mean we’re just picking at straws here. Just being as competitive as I am, I really, really want to win a gold medal. And that’s pretty much what I came here to do.”
These Olympics are “sort of a redemption time,” Goepper tells PEOPLE. “I’m coming off a poor result at the X Games in Aspen a couple weeks ago, and that was really tough for me. I made an uncharacteristic mistake three times in all my runs, and I’m really just using that as fuel and motivation to bring into this and really step it up and shine, because that’s what I came here to do.”
Goepper, who participated in Procter & Gamble’s “Love Over Bias” campaign, will be watched by his entire family — the “whole fam-damily,” he says: his parents and three siblings (two brothers and a sister).
“I always want my family in the family VIP [area] at the bottom. I always want them there, nowhere else but like right there watching, because I really like kind of looking over at them, maybe giving them a little wink or wave or something during practice,” he says.
Their support is also an extra kick to perform.
“That’s always one of my biggest fears, is my family coming and not making finals [in the slopestyle event], because I feel like that’s a given,” Goepper says. “If your supporters come, you have to make finals. It’s like a rule I have for myself.”
While Goepper says he is analytical about himself and his performance — perhaps to a fault — he plans to loosen up this go-round at the Olympics in a way that he didn’t in 2014.
“I think if I just enjoy myself and try to have fun and just be more engaged here just with my peers, I think I’ll have an overall better time and just do better as an athlete,” he says, noting, “I was sort of a lone wolf in Russia last time and I didn’t have that much fun, so I really want to be able to take the whole experience in while I’m here.”
Off the snow, Goepper stays busy training and preparing (this week he is rewatching old runs “where I was skiing really well and just feeling super confident”) and, during downtime, loves skateboarding, surfing and off-roading with his truck.
His girlfriend will reportedly join his family to watch him ski this weekend. He say they have been dating not yet a year after they met in the athlete lounge at the X Games a couple of years ago, though their romance had a small cost.
“Part of her job, the job rule was she’s not allowed to fraternize with the athletes in the athlete lounge,” Goepper says. “And obviously we were fraternizing, so she got the job taken away.”
On the snow, of course, Goepper knows exactly what he wants to do.
“I’m excited to show off just smooth, consistent, technical, difficult skiing,” he says.
To the world, the Olympics stretch on for more than two weeks, but for the athletes it all narrows down to just a few days while they compete — or in Goepper’s case, just one.
“It’s interesting, because there’s all this hype and media and build up for the Olympics, but our qualifying and our finals happen on one day, he says.
“It’s kind of mind-blowing to think that all this hype and all this groundwork is being laid for literally one day,” he continues. “So we’re going to wake up on that morning and kind of like in Sochi — we woke up, it was the same thing, qualifying and finals on the same day — you roll out of bed, and you’re like, ‘Well, the Olympics is today. I hope it
“But you know, you don’t hope that it goes well, you know that it’s going to go well because of the preparation and the practice that you’ve already put in and all the hard work. So I’m really excited to get on the world stage and show off.”
The Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.