The Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle made its debut as a Winter Olympics event at Sochi 2014, and the Americans made sure that their stamp was put on the new event right away.
Sage Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old freestyle snowboarder from Couer d'Alene, Idaho, dazzled the judges with an electrifying run in the first-round, notching a score of 93.50. Kotsenburg then watched as 12 more riders tried and failed to match his mark, capturing the gold medal for the United States.
Kotsenburg’s second run wasn’t quite as thrilling, registering a score of only 83.25, but his first run continued to be the standard for the signature event.
The new event suffered a huge loss when dominant U.S. snowboarder Shaun White elected to withdraw from the event earlier in the week to concentrate on halfpipe event later on in the games. White, who has won two gold medals during his career and is the world record holder with the most medals ever at the X-Games, declared the slopestyle course in Sochi to be too treacherous.
"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on," White said.
White’s withdrawal left a huge hole in the lineup and meant that the first-ever gold medal was clearly up for grabs. Kotsenburg had never won a freestyle event of significance prior to winning the American Olympic slopestyle qualifying event in California last month.
But now, he’s a gold medalist, and he shared his joy with his fans on Twitter.
Kotsenburg was technically superior, competing all of his acrobatic moves with style and flair while not attempting the difficult triple-cork, a new move that many other snowboarders have incorporated into their individual programs.
In fact, many thought that the triple-cork was a must-have in order to capture a gold medal, but judges clearly saw it differently. Staale Sandbech of Norway and Canadian Mark McMorris both successfully pulled off the nifty maneuver, but were relegated to silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Canada snowboarder Sebastien Toutant finished ninth in the event, and he thought that both the runs of Sandbech and McMorris were superior to that of Kotsenburg.
"I think definitely Mark and Staale did some runs that should've scored higher. Sage had some really creative stuff. But whatever," Toutant said. "They're all homeys. They deserved it. The sport is getting judged by humans and life goes on."
McMorris was slowed by a rib injury suffered at last month’s X Games. While his run was technically sound, he wasn’t physically able to pull of acrobatic moves with a style that pleased the judges.
Max Parrott, the reigning X Games gold medalist, was the last rider on the course, and all eyes were on Parrott as he attempted to beat Kotsenburg’s score. But he ended up with a high score of 87.25 after his second run, giving Kotsenburg the gold medal and his first-ever major victory.
Kotsenburg was also likely aided by a new trick he pulled off on his first run, a move in which he rotates 4 ½ times in the air while holding on to the back of his board. It’s a move he’s dubbed the “Holy Crail” and likely gave him the winning edge.
"I'd never even tried it before, literally," Kotsenburg said. "Never ever tried it before in my life."
For an event missing its signature performer, Kotsenburg unveiled the new move at the perfect time, and once again, the Americans can revel in the fact that they are once again freestyle champions in snowboard events.