Sage Kotsenburg of the US won the first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Olympics yesterday, soaring to victory in the men’s snowboarding slopestyle final.
Kotsenburg had a score of 93.50 to edge Staale Sandbech of Norway. Mark McMorris of Canada, who barely made the finals, took bronze.
Canadian Max Parrot, who topped qualifying on Thursday, missed the podium. He washed out at the end of his first run and his second run was not quite crisp enough. Parrot finished fifth.
Kotsenburg, 20, needed to navigate the semi-finals early yesterday, but seemed to find his stride.
He placed second in the semi-finals, then rolled with a medal on the line. He clasped his hands over his head in disbelief after his score was revealed.
The laid-back youngster from Couer d’Alene, Idaho — nicknamed “Second-Run Sage” because of his tendency to come through at the last minute — did not waste time putting together the run of his life.
He tamed the treacherous course that chased away teammate Shaun White earlier in the week and sent several other contenders to the medical tent.
Kotsenburg kept his cool on a course that features a large nesting doll, tricky rails and three jumps took out its fair share of riders. His blonde hair flapped out from under his helmet as he soared through the sun-splashed Caucasus Mountains and Kotsenburg looked as if he were cruising down the hill with friends.
Still, there was drama as he waited out the rest of the 12-man field.
He stood off to the side after his second run, a not-quite sharp 83.25, and clapped behind a nervous smile as the rest of the field aimed for his score.
McMorris, slowed by a broken rib, could not quite get there. A gold medal favorite before his injury at the X Games last month, McMorris needed to scramble to get through the semi-finals and his trip down the hill in the finals was solid, but not spectacular.
Sandbech, who went next to last, was nearly flawless. He was so pumped after his second run he belly-flopped onto the ground. His 91.75 was not quite good enough, leaving only Parrot in Kotsenburg’s way of gold.
Parrot dominated qualifying, posting the best score of the week. He put together a flawless first run, only to sit on the landing of his final jump. He wobbled twice on his second run. He dropped his head when his 87.25 popped up on the scoreboard, while Kotsenburg raised his arms in triumph.