KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Sage Kotsenburg loves snowboarding for all its unexpected surprises.
Winning the first Olympic gold medal in slopestyle, for one.
And winning it with one trick he’d never tried before and another that included a self-invented grab of the board he named the “Holy Crail.”
The 20-year-old American jetted off the first big jump of the slopestyle course Saturday and whirled around for 3 1/2 rotations while flipping twice. All the while, he was grabbing the front of his board with one hand and the nose of the board with the other.
At the bottom, he helicoptered through 4 1/2 rotations, while grabbing his board and flexing it behind his back.
“Never even tried it before,” Kotsenburg said. “Never, ever tried it in my life.”
Kotsenburg landed both jumps cleanly. The fans in the mostly full stands, knowing they had seen something completely different in a completely new Olympic sport, let out a huge gasp after the second one.
On the strength of those tricks — the Cab Double Cork 1260 with a Holy Crail grab and a Back 1620 Japan Air — the kid from Park City, Utah, known as “Second Run Sage,” posted a winning score of 93.5 on his first run.
Nobody in the 12-man field of finalists could top him. Kotsenburg put the first gold medal of the Sochi Games into the “USA” column. Soon after, he and the other medalists, Staale Sandbech of Norway and Mark McMorris of Canada, were hugging, body-slamming and turning their sport’s “Kiss and Cry” zone into a mosh pit.
“I kind of do random stuff all the time, never make a plan up,” Kotsenburg said. “I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped. It’s kind of what I’m all about.”
Kotsenburg’s jumps were the high point of yet another sunny, windless day at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Combining all that, along with a bit of half-expected, half-legitimate griping about the judging, made it easy to forget that Shaun White had pulled out of this event before qualifying, complaining about the toughness of the course.
White, one of the most cutting-edge innovators in the game, was practicing on the halfpipe below when Kotsenburg landed the 1620 Japan Air.
Despite the excitement of that trick, there was some head-scratching going on elsewhere.
Sandbech, McMorris and Winter X Games champion Max Parrot were among those who threw the much-ballyhooed triple cork, which is three head-over-heels flips — considered way more dangerous and athletic and presumed to be the must-have trick to win the first Olympic gold in this sport’s history.
Kotsenburg never tried one.
Rider after rider came off the course and concluded that Kotsenburg’s win symbolized a shift in the sport; that judges are looking for more technical moves with so-called style rather than a simple gymnastics meet on the snow.
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