SOCHI, RUSSIA —
You know you are around snowboarders when you repeatedly hear the words “stoked” and “sick.” Used to describe thrilling jumps, tricks or runs that riders have either seen or performed themselves, the words can mean other things as well.
Men’s slopestyle winner Sage Kotsenburg of the United States used them often after winning the first gold medal of the Sochi Games.
“All the riders were stoked today with how everything was organized," he said shortly after taking the medal in the inaugural event on Saturday. "It was really smooth, and I mean we just really went out there and rode and did our thing. On a global stage like the Olympics, it’s sick to have snowboarding in there, and all of us were having a blast today."
U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg addressing a news conference after winning the first gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, Feb. 8, 2014 (P. Brewer/VOA).
Addressing a press conference at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, he had nothing but praise for fellow boarders in the new event, only one of several sports added this year to the Winter Olympics in hopes of increasing the amount of younger people who follow the Games.
"You could see us all high-fiving at the bottom, and it’s not like we’re bummed out when other people come down and land good on a run," he said. "You know, we’re equally as 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."
Kotsenburg’s winning score, which he earned on the first of his two runs down the course that includes special rails and jumps for performing acrobatics, was 93.50. That was 1.75 points better than silver medalist Staale Sandbech of Norway (91.75). Canadian Mark McMorris, who competed with a broken rib, earned the bronze (88.75).
Kotsenburg, a personable 20 year old with long blonde hair, a short-cropped beard and a great smile, said his interest in snowboarding began by watching the sport at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, close to where he grew up in the state of Utah, as well as snowboarding videos.
“That was kind of like, 'whoa, snowboarding is on a huge global level.' That kind of got me stoked on snowboarding. It didn’t really get me into it, but it got me more stoked on snowboarding to see it like as a global sport. And yeah, I just kept watching a bunch of movies," he said. "I was really a big fan of the old snowboard movies, and that’s what really like inspired me when I was younger.”
Though Kotsenburg had captured the final Olympic qualifying event in California last month, this Olympic gold medal was a surprise. He finished 20th at last year’s World Championships and said his other big victory came long ago when he was 11 years old.
For the Sochi Games he created a new trick that he called the (intentionally misspelled) "Holy Crail."
“I don’t know, I just kind of do random stuff all the time. I don’t really make a plan up. I had no idea I was going to even do a 1620 in my run until like three minutes before I [started down the course]," he said. "So that’s kind of what I’m all about, just kind of being random. And the Holy Crail is a grab I invented a few months ago, so I really wanted to do it in my run here.”
And it paid off for Kotsenburg as he joins a list of only three other Americans to win the first gold medal awarded in the 22 Winter Olympic Games, and the first American to do so since 1952, when alpine skier Andi Mead-Lawrence triumphed in the women’s giant slalom.
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