When Shaun White dropped out of the Sochi slopestyle event last week, American hopes of winning the event were dashed. The Canadian snowboarding team thought it was a smart move for White. He wasn’t going to win anyway, according to them. Maybe White is the most popular American in the sport, but it does not mean he is the only American who knows his way around a mountain. Today, after the powder settled in the men’s slopestyle finals, Sage Kotsenburg proved that. He became the first gold medal winner at the this year’s Winter Olympics.
Americans from across the world who were anxiously waiting for the United States to win their first medal didn’t have to wait very long. Slopestyle was the first event at the Sochi Winter Olympics scheduled to yield a medal, and Kotsenburg won it in style. He took the hill as the third competitor to ride the dangerous slopestyle course. Most competitors wait until their second try to attempt a big run. They feel it is important to establish a solid run with their first attempt, and then craft their second based on the other scores posted. Kotsenburg was just the opposite. Being that he rode so early in the event, he wanted to make an impression. Taking the mountain by storm, he clearly did that.
Kotsenburg won the Sochi Winter Olympics first gold medal with a near-perfect opening run. He went big, bold, and fearless into the course, posting a dominating 93.5 score. The 93.5 was the second highest score given in the whole competition, behind a 94.5 qualifying round score by Norwegian Staale Sandbech. Kotsenburg, who was shocked and overwhelmed that he even made the finals, left the rest of the field scrambling to beat a score most never even came close to.
There were 21 runs made after Kotsenburg set the mark. Of them, only one even broke 90. Sandbech, who became Norway’s front runner after Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone earlier this week, put together an impressive second run to win the silver with a 91.75 score.
The Canadian Snowboarding team, the odds on favorites to place, barely made a showing. Expecting to win the gold and likely multiple medals in the event, they seemingly fell apart under the pressure of the world’s biggest stage. Of the three legitimate medal contenders from Canada, only Mark McMorris came close to the gold. He fell short by nearly five points and had to settle for the bronze. The amazing part of McMorris’ run was that he did it all with a broken rib. Canadians who are disappointed in not winning the gold are still very proud of their countryman. He showed a lot of heart and guts in even competing, and to medal for your country is still a feeling most will never get to experience.
Kotsenburg, an Idaho native, showed great humility at the medal presentation ceremony. He brought both of the other winners up to the top pedestal with him in a show of unity and sportsmanship. The slopestyle competition has received a lot of negative publicity in the opening days of the Sochi Winter games. Being in its first year, slopestyle really needed a good showing. Losing top American Contender Shaun White to a withdrawal, and top Norwegian medal favorite Torstein Horgmo to an injury, was a real blow to the competition. Seeing an American and a Norwegian on the podium despite those losses was great for the sport. The sportsmanship showed by the winners could go a long way toward saving the reputation of slopestyle and cementing its place as an Olympic event. For now, Americans are just happy that the Sochi Winter Olympics’ first gold medal is coming home.
By Chris Chisam