PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Four years ago, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper stood together on the podium in Sochi, as silver and bronze medalists and two-thirds of one of the greatest American performances in Winter Olympics history. Four years later, they stood at the bottom of another Olympic slopestyle course, only one of them a medalist, but both proud of how far those four years have brought them.
"Before my last run, I was visualizing myself landing the last jump, arms open, screaming," said Goepper, a silver medalist this time around after Sunday's men's ski slopestyle final. "I had to dig deep and trust myself, and it all came to fruition."
Kenworthy failed to land a clean run in the finals and finished last, skiing through injuries and the immeasurable pressure of a two-year buildup to these Games. He was disappointed in his performance but aware of what his presence in an Olympic final meant beyond the competition. "I'm just proud to be here representing the U.S.," Kenworthy said Sunday. "Before my last run, I was reminding myself how amazing this experience is and that, win or lose, I have an amazing support system and a lot to be proud of."
In Sochi, they were kids. Alongside their teammate, gold-medal winner Joss Christensen, they shared the weight of expectations in their sport's Olympic debut. After their podium sweep, they shared the heat of the spotlight. They smiled together for the cameras, holding their medals high and allowing the world to be distracted by their sparkle. But individually, they struggled inside.
Christensen was mourning the recent loss of his father, JD, and smiling through the heartache that his win forced him to publicly confront. Kenworthy wasn't ready to tell the world he was gay. During those slopestyle finals, he skied wearing a pair of pink underwear beneath his Team USA uniform, a reminder to himself of his truth.
Goepper's pain settled in the darkness of not knowing what came next. He wanted to take advantage of what winning an Olympic medal had to offer, yes-ing himself into exhaustion. When the fanfare stopped, he felt purposeless. "I had no plan after Sochi," Goepper said. "I was partying a lot with my friends, flying into this void. Three weeks after the Olympics, I'm like, 'What am I doing?'"
Months after what should have been the greatest day of his life, Kenworthy was falling into what he says was one of the darkest periods of his life. Goepper was drinking daily, lost and depressed. In December 2014, he was arrested and charged with criminal mischief for throwing rocks at vehicles in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, that summer.
"The drinking was a symptom of the problem, and unfortunately that symptom got pretty bad," Goepper said. In a recent interview for ESPN's World of X Games, he said as the depression worsened, he contemplated ending his life.
In the fall of 2015, with the support of his parents, Goepper checked into a rehab facility in Texas. In October of that year, Kenworthy came out publicly in a cover story in ESPN The Magazine. Neither man knew where those decisions would take them. The night before Kenworthy's story was published, he took a screenshot of his Instagram followers to remind himself how many supporters he once had.
"I thought I would lose sponsors and fans," he said. "I thought I would be judged poorly at contests. I painted a worst-case scenario for myself, but the response couldn't have been more opposite. It was the best day of my life."
Goepper said he hasn't had a drink in 2½ years. He made the decision to share his story last summer, after several heart-to-hearts with his younger sister led him to want to honestly provide an answer when people asked him how he was doing. "I knew it was going to happen one day, it just had to be the right time," his father, Chris Goepper, said. "It was important for him to do, to get the monkey off his back. There's no whispers anymore."
Addressing the media after his performance on Sunday, Goepper spoke candidly and confidently about his struggles, open in a way he wasn't before, and aware that, like Kenworthy, his story is resonating with people beyond his sport. "It's important to be authentic and true to yourself," Goepper said. "Gus led by example to anyone who wants to be open about their feelings. It's great to just be you."
In the time since both men shared their stories, they've not only felt freed by speaking their truths and becoming incredible role models to the communities they now represent, but they've also gained a better understanding of each other.
"When Nick decided he wanted to be authentic, you could feel this huge weight being lifted off his shoulders," Goepper's mom, Linda, said. "It was freeing. There's been a lot of tension between Nick and Gus over the years, and that started to dissipate as soon as their stories came out. It's been awesome to watch them grow into more mature adults. There's been a significant amount of stuff underneath it all for both of them, so to see them rise above and enjoy themselves and compete so well, it's been awesome to watch."
On Sunday afternoon, both families stood in the spectator area at Phoenix Snow Park watching their sons compete for the second time at the Winter Olympics, proud not only of their performances, but of the men they'd become.