America's first medal comes in slopestyle
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — He woke up Saturday just hoping to make the finals, didn't know exactly what he would do on his most important run until three minutes before it started and capped it off with a trick he had never before attempted.
"I just kind of do random stuff all the time," Sage Kotsenburg said. "I don't really make a plan. That's kind of what I'm all about, being random."
And, now, also being an Olympic champion.
Kotsenburg, 20, from Idaho, won America's first medal of the Sochi Games, claiming victory in men's snowboard slopestyle, an event making its Olympic debut.
Kotsenburg's first run in the finals resulted in a score of 93.50, which stood up as the winner. Norway's Staale Sandbech finished second and Canada's Mark McMorris took third.
"On a global level, at the Olympics, it's sick (good) 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. We just went out there and rode and did our thing."
Not only did Kotsenburg make history in winning the first snowboard slopestyle event at the Games, he also became just the fourth American to win gold in the first medal event of a Winter Olympics.
The last time it happened was 1952, when Andrea Mead-Lawrence won the women's alpine giant slalom. That was 62 years ago or nearly 10 years before the first snowboard was patented.
Kotsenburg's victory also was unexpected in that he doesn't exactly have an impressive history of winning.
Last month, he finished first in a qualifier at Mammoth Mountain, Kotsenburg claiming he hadn't won anything before that since "a regional event when I was 11 years old. I can't even describe the feeling (Saturday). It's really cool."
With the snowboard competition starting early, Kotsenburg was unable to attend Friday night's opening ceremony. Instead, he and several of his peers gathered in a cafeteria in the Athletes' Village and — ate onion rings?
Not the typical way an Olympian prepares for a run at gold, but then these snowboarders aren't typical, either. They share a rare camaraderie for this level of competition and openly root for one another.
Some observers believed Sandbech should have won and was cheated by the judges. He was asked about that afterward.
"I heard a couple people say that, too, but I don't want to say anything about it," Sandbech said. "I just want to enjoy this moment. I'm just super happy for my friend, Sage. That's what so important in snowboarding. We're all good friends. We can all celebrate together."
And how random is it to hear something like that at the Olympics? Random and beautiful.