February 13, 2014 11:07 AM EST

Not that long ago, the U.S. stank at the Winter Olympics. At the 1988 Calgary Games, on North American soil no less, the U.S. won just two gold medals.

In Sochi, Team USA matched that number in one weekend. A pair of totally stoked snowboarders, Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, each won the inaugural slopestyle snowboarding event, in which athletes navigate a downhill obstacle course while sliding on rails and corkscrewing off jumps.

Consider it the result of institutional interests aligning. The International Olympic Committee covets younger fans, and NBC, which is paying the IOC $775 million to broadcast the Sochi Games, wants events that draw younger viewers to earn a return on that massive investment. Extreme sports at which the U.S. excels, like slopestyle, have been added to the program, boosting its medal haul.

The world, however, is catching up. Snowboard half-pipe is an old-guard extreme event–it first appeared in the 1998 Games. Shaun White, the two-time defending Olympic half-pipe champ, finished fourth at Sochi. Swiss snowboarder Iouri “iPod” Podladtchikov won gold, and two teens from Japan took silver and bronze. The Olympic X Games have gone global.


This appears in the February 24, 2014 issue of TIME.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like