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(KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - JANUARY 8: Sage Kotsenburg of the United States competes in the Men's Slopestyle Semifinals at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games Saturday February 8, 2014. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune) )
Kragthorpe: Snowboard gold medalist gives some Sage advice
Olympics » Park City’s Kostenburg blazes own slopestyle trail in winning Games’ first gold
First Published Feb 08 2014 10:08 am • Last Updated Feb 25 2014 04:52 pm

Sochi, Russia

So here’s Sage Kotsenburg of Park City, showing up at the Olympics for the first time in a new event that just happens to be his lifelong specialty, and he wins the first gold medal awarded in these Games.

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Whoa, that’s some sick stuff.

The snowboarder disdains gym workouts, executed his run without caring what the judges thought of him, and strikingly resembles the movie character who’s the face of the slacker culture.

A couple of thousand other winter athletes must hate this guy, right? They gear their entire lives to competing in the Olympics every four years, and he’s the one winning the gold already? Such a development is, as only he could describe it, "seriously, the craziest thing ever."

The women’s ski jumpers who grew up with him had to file lawsuits and fight for years to get into the Games, just when his snowboard slopestyle event was instantly added. Other athletes face immense pressure, and he’s taking powder runs a day or two before the competition and then Tweeting a photo of onion rings formed into the Olympic logo, while watching part of the Opening Ceremony from a couch before switching to "Fight Club."

If he’s not the Anti-Olympian, exactly, he’s certainly the atypical Olympian. Kotsenburg’s star turn is "kind of weird, and it makes sense, at the same time," he said.

Actually, staying in the mountains to rest for the 9:30 a.m. semifinals was a responsible choice. And his outlook is what makes the 20-year-old rider with shaggy blond hair so lovable. He’s a sport psychologist’s dream, naturally programmed to do his thing and not worry about the outcome Saturday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. "I ride really bad when I overthink things," he said.

That well-reasoned observation sounds like something Jeff Spicoli would have said in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Kotsenburg’s quote came in his entertaining news conference after a trip to the Olympic Park in Sochi, where his 25-minute Q&A session evoked 12 mentions of "stoked," nine "sicks" and, somewhat disappointingly, only two "gnarlys" and one "insane."

This is one time when his usage of another favorite word — "random" — actually fit the standard definition. When the day began, he was just trying to join the other finalists, who had advanced Thursday. After that, all it took was one epic run with a perfect "Holy Crail" move, and he was an Olympic champion.

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Really, nobody could resent Kotsenburg. He’s a deserving winner, for sure, having chosen to do his personally invented trick and not conform to the field. It all worked out wonderfully, but maybe that was not even the point. Australian star Torah Bright of Salt Lake City endorsed his approach via Twitter as a "great representation of what snowboarding’s all about. Expression."

Picture him standing at the top of the run about 10 minutes before the first heat of the finals. He’s grabbing his phone from the backpack of a wax technician, calling in the early morning hours in Utah and asking about throwing down a new move.

And there’s Blaze Kotsenburg, the big brother who pulled him away from skiing and into snowboarding at Park City Mountain Resort when Sage was 5, responding, "Send it in."

Holy Crail, indeed. After riding the rails, soaring off the last jump and delivering his signature grabs during 41/2 revolutions in the air, Kotsenburg impressed the judges enough to win the gold. He’ll take it, but only because he did it in his own style.

And now he gets to enjoy two weeks of the Olympics as a gold medalist, and see what comes next. "I heard it’s going to be crazy," he said.

Kotsenburg does get nervous, enough so that he asked his parents to stay home in Park City, because "they stress me out too much," he said. His mother, Carol Ann, is the worrier, known to stand far from the course — but close enough to create a vibe of tension. So they settled for watching streaming video of the victory, then joined in a long-distance conversation that their son described as "the coolest thing ever."


Twitter: @tribkurt

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