SOCHI, Russia — He came to these Olympics determined to stay his chilled-out, snowboarding self at the pressure-packed Winter Games and, in his own words, continue to “march to his own beat.”
With that attitude and special flair, 20-year-old Sage Kotsenburg of Park City, Utah, marched off with the first gold medal of the 2014 Sochi Olympics in men’s slopestyle on Saturday at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
This marked the Olympic debut of one of the livelier extreme sports and Kotsenburg won it with an eye-popping first run in the final, earning 93.50 points. Taking the silver was Staale Sandbech of Norway and Mark McMorris of Canada grabbed the bronze medal.
McMorris, the gold-medal favorite before he broke a rib at the X Games in late January, put up a brave showing with his painful injury. He reached the final by virtue of pulling out all the stops with his second run in the semifinal, and scored 88.75 in his second run in the final.
This event had been in the spotlight because snowboarding icon Shaun White pulled out on Wednesday, a day before the start of competition, citing the potential risk of injury. One of the other medal favorites, from Norway, had to pull out because of a broken collarbone sustained in a training run.
White's withdrawal left Kotsenburg, Chas Guldemond and Ryan Stassel as the remaining medal hopes for the United States. But Kotsenburg was the only one of the three to make it out of the semifinals.
Kotsenburg said after the semifinals that his parents were back home watching, too nervous to come to Russia. But he planned on calling them between sessions.
Kotsenburg chatted away with reporters in the mixed zone after the semifinals, oblivious to any pressure. Stress apparently is not in his DNA.
“I really want to medal just as much as the next guy, but my attitude in the run, if I land, that’s cool,” he said. “If not, I need to try harder obviously. That’s just how I snowboard.
“I’m super mellow, laid-back. I’m not like the normal guy that goes in the gym and trains. I haven’t been in the gym since September."