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Red Gerard wins gold in men's slopestyle snowboarding as Sage Kotsenburg celebrates from afar

Red Gerard, of the United States, jumps during the men's slopestyle final at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Pyeongchang, South Korea • Sage Kotsenburg wasn’t interested in starring in an Olympic sequel.

Instead, the Park City resident got to watch a reboot.

It was 3:30 a.m. in the Italian Alps when Kotsenburg, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist in slopestyle, tuned in to watch 17-year-old Red Gerard follow in his footsteps, surprising the world to grab Team USA’s first gold of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“RED GERARD JUST WON THE OLYMPICS!” Kotsenburg announced to his followers on Instagram.

Four years after the snowboarding slopestyle event debuted in Sochi, Russia, it was déjà vu all over again for the United States on Sunday in South Korea. Gerard was up against Canadian stars Mark McMorris and Max Parrot. He wasn’t supposed to win it all. But an underdog in his first Olympics surprising everybody? Yeah, that’s a story Kotsenburg knows well.

“When I went there, I was the dark horse,” he said. “It was this crazy story where all the stars aligned and I ended up winning.”

Maybe that’s part of the reason why, while others wondered if the U.S. would be shut out of a medal in the event, Kotsenburg predicted earlier this week that Gerard would be standing on the podium.

“I definitely expect to see him up there,” Kotsenburg said. “The rail setup looks really heavy. You’ve got to be super creative.”

And Gerard, the youngest American male to win a gold medal since 1928, was certainly creative. After two disappointing runs in Sunday’s finals, the teenager stomped one when he needed to, scoring a 87.16 on his final trip through the course.

“It feels incredible. I’m just really happy that I got to land a run and I’m just really excited right now,” Gerard said. “… I’m just so happy that it all worked out.”

In more ways than one, Kotsenburg and Gerard are kindred spirits. After winning the gold in 2014, Kotsenburg decided the Olympics weren’t for him anymore. Instead of killing himself to prepare for competitions, he’d rather spend his time snowboarding with his friends in the backcountry.

“That’s exactly what I want, to be honest,” Gerard said last fall. “I want to do the Olympics, see what it’s about, and then … gather myself and see what I want to do in snowboarding.”

Even as late as this week, Gerard still had some questions about his first trip to the Winter Games.

“I honestly don’t know what the Olympics is,” the teenager told a Washington Post reporter this week.

So what are the odds he recognized IOC President Thomas Bach when he was patting him on the shoulder at the bottom of the slopestyle course on Sunday? Instead, Gerard looked like a guy ready to do his own thing. Like meet up with his family, who were drinking beers at the bottom of the course, ready to celebrate another surprise gold medal.

“I cannot wait to see them all and see what they have to say,” Gerard said.

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