Olympics / Sports

Sage Kotsenburg does it his way, randomly, wins gold

SOCHI, Russia -- The unshakable randomness of being snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg can hit at the most remarkable times.

It's one thing to pull out a brand new trick on, say, an ordinary Saturday in Park City, Utah. But in an Olympic final?

"I like doing crazy things, like spontaneous moves," Kotsenburg said. "I had this idea in my mind all day. It ended up working out.

"I thought about it before the run. But once you're going into it, if you're thinking it, you're going to fall on your face."

In the men's slopestyle final at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Saturday, Kotsenburg unveiled the move at the end of his first run, a trick called a Backside Double Cork 1620 Japan. He walked away with the first gold medal of these Olympics, scoring 93.50 in his first of two runs. Only the better run counts.

The last-minute call was in lock step with the attitude and vibe of the 20-year-old from Park City, who came to Russia determined to stay his chilled-out self. In his own words, to march to his own beat.

This was the sparkling Olympic debut of slopestyle, and there will be no going back after its successful unveiling on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon. Staale Sandbech of Norway won the silver medal and Mark McMorris of Canada grabbed the bronze.

Sandbech put down a 91.75 on his second run. Kotsenburg and Sandbech were the only two snowboarders to have runs receiving more than 90 points.

Before the final, Kotsenburg called his older brother Blaze at home in Park City and indicated he was thinking of tweaking his run to include the "Back 16 Japan," a 41/2 rotation with a backboard grab. Blaze, who designed Sage's snowboard, asked him if he had ever tried the trick.

"That's what I'm all about," Kotsenburg said later. "Doing weird stuff."

The youngster, who did not try any triples, has an old-school snowboarder essence; he was reared on movies of past heroes of the sport.

U.S. snowboarding/freeskiing Coach Mike Jankowski said that Kotsenburg was an ideal ambassador for snowboarding.

"To be that stylish is technical," Jankowski said. "The course is a canvas. And your board is a paintbrush. Sage will do it his way and make it look good."

Kotsenburg was pitch-perfect on the course. He hugged his main competitors after their runs and a full-scale bromance was in the air in the finish area with his "homies."

"On a global level, it's sick to have snowboarding in there," Kotsenburg said. "All of us were having a blast today. You could see us all high-fiving at the bottom. It's not like we're bummed out when other people come down and land a run. We're equally stoked for the next person to land a run.

"As much as you want to stay on top, you want them to get a good score too. I grew up with Mark and Staale, I've known them for the past six years. We've all become really good friends. We're not like enemies at all. We love each other.

"Oh, that's probably not a good thing to say."

His win was considered a significant upset. Kotsenburg won the last qualifier at Mammoth about three weeks ago, and joked that he had a "mega drought," saying that his last win before that was when he was 11 years old.

This event had been in the spotlight because snowboarding icon Shaun White pulled out Wednesday, a day before the start of competition, citing the potential risk of injury. One of the other medal favorites had to pull out because of a broken collarbone suffered in a training run.

There were no such mishaps Saturday. McMorris was the gold-medal favorite before he broke a rib at the X Games late last month. Despite the injury, he reached the final by virtue of pulling out all the stops with his second run in the semifinal, and scored 88.75 on his second run in the final.

McMorris thought that his Canadian teammate Max Parrot, the final snowboarder down the course, had knocked him off the podium. He had been critical of the judging on the first day of the event.

"Yeah, but the judging," McMorris said with a hint of irony. "You never know with these guys over here. It was so tense. Even if somebody lands and maybe you don't see everything. I automatically was like, 'Yeah, I'm done. I'm not on the podium anymore.'

"I was about to walk out and the (official) was like, 'Wait, you don't know.' I'm like, 'I'm pretty sure I know.' The score came up and I was still in third. I just congratulated Max (for) riding well and went and hugged these guys. It was pretty cool."

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