He was the Freestyle Skiing World Champion in the World Cup with 14 top 10 rankings. But just as Matthew Christensen’s competitive sports career drew to a close, he found his true calling – as a gifted vaulting coach who not only helped set the standard for the sport in its early days. . like an Olympic event, but also guided other elite athletes to victory.
The longtime coach of the US freestyle ski team in aerials “has helped other athletes reach their potential,” says his older brother, Marcus Christensen.
Born in Toronto to Robert Christensen, director of Family Services of Toronto, and former Jennifer Hamilton, financial planner, Matthew grew up in Guelph before returning to Toronto in 1983, where he attended St. Andrew’s Jr. High and the Alternative. Independent study program.
“As a child Matt was involved in all sports, but as soon as he saw the movie ‘Hot Dog’ he wanted to be a freestyle skier,” Marcus explains. “He begged our parents to take him skiing and take ski lessons.
At 17 years old, Christensen has joined the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team. “He had talent, drive and a work ethic,” Marcus says. “This combination is ideal for competitive sports. He continued to represent Canada throughout the 2000s, flourishing as an outfielder on the Canadian freestyle team after becoming a Canadian freestyle champion. In addition to his World Cup Top 10 placements in aerials and acro / ballet, he placed 14th in aerials at the 1993 World Championships.
“He loved the thrill and the challenge of the sport,” says Marcus. “He was living his dream.
When the odds weren’t good that he would be chosen to represent Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Christensen planned ahead. He went through the American training program, and in 1998 moved to Park City, Utah, to begin his second act – as Team C’s aerials coach for the American Freestyle Ski Team.
After making its debut at the Lillehammer Games in 1994, jumps – a form of freestyle skiing that involves tricks like flips and twists – were rapidly gaining popularity, and Christensen and his athletes heightened its notoriety. Despite his brother’s success as an athlete, Marcus says, training was his real talent. “His students were really thinking about the world of him and he was thinking about the world of them.” As a young coach, he brought new ideas to the position, including expanding the use of a trampoline to teach new skills.
His efforts have produced results that have not gone unnoticed. He was promoted to head coach of aerials for the US Olympic Freestyle Skiing team in 2000 and led the skiers through three Winter Games: Salt Lake City in 2002, Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010. He brought out the best of his athletes, including silver medalists Joe Pack and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson; world champion Ryan St. Onge; and Emily Cook and Kate Reed Currett. Christensen was named USSA International Freestyle Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2005, and in 2009 became USSA International Coach of the Year.
During this time, he also made a lifelong dream come true. He had fallen in love with Maui as a teenager while traveling with his parents (“He knew right away this place was his destiny,” Marcus says) and, in 2003, he moved to the island. He ran, biked and surfed and, in 2018, married Cara Thibault, performance director at the Canadian Olympic Committee whom he had met in Seoul five years earlier.
“When Matt walked into a room, you immediately knew he was there,” Marcus says of his charismatic brother, who has traveled the world as an athlete and coach and made friends everywhere. “Matt literally knew everyone who mattered in the world of Olympic sports and the X Games.”
Christensen coached the US Aerials team until 2010 when he joined Red Bull as the performance program manager, using his knowledge of acrobatics to help athletes reach higher levels. He devoted the second half of his coaching life to supporting young extreme sports athletes and was also passionate about integrating young people in sport into his personal life.
After her husband’s death, Thibault led a memorial fundraiser in support of the Ian Walsh Menehune Mayhem Foundation – which helps Maui’s youth reach their potential in all aspects of their lives by participating in fitness activities, sports and surf studies – raised over US $ 23,000
Despite a high-profile and active lifestyle, Christensen was grounded and down-to-earth. “He shared everything he had with his athletes, friends and family,” says Marcus. “He lived life smart, wisely and was very goal oriented. He just chose a sport that seemed outrageous to most people.