Kotsenburg pulls out a surprise gold

The Sports NetworkFebruary 8, 2014 

(SportsNetwork.com) - Many Olympic observers thought an American might win the first-ever snowboard slopestyle gold, but Sage Kotsenburg was not the name at the top of that list.

Shaun White, of course, was among the favorites, along with the Canadian trio of Mark McMorris, Max Parrot and Sebastien Toutant.

When White withdrew on Wednesday, claiming he wanted to concentrate on a run toward a third straight halfpipe gold, two of the Canadians criticized the decision and said the American superstar was "scared."

They quickly deleted their comments from Twitter and an apology was offered, but it still left the U.S. without its best medal bet.

After Thursday's initial qualifying runs, there was some doubt as to whether an American would even earn a spot in the final. The three remaining U.S. riders -- Kotsenburg, Ryan Stassel and Charles Guldemond -- hadn't posted good enough scores to earn one of the eight berths.

Kotsenburg changed all that on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Idaho native was only American to reach the final, picking up one of the four available spots in the field of 12 with a strong semifinal run early on Saturday.

He was then the third rider to hit the course on Saturday afternoon and simply thrilled the judges with his first run.

With all the talk of triple-cork jumps, it was a backside 1620 -- a trick Kotsenburg calls the "Holy Crail" -- that helped him to Olympic glory.

"I just kind of do random stuff all the time," said Kotsenburg. "I never really make a plan. I had no idea I was going to even do a 1620 in my run until like three minutes before I dropped. The "Holy Crail" is a grab I invented a couple months ago, so I really wanted to do it in my run here and to do it in the cab 1260 on the first jump is pretty cool. Ending with a 1620 Japan was pretty crazy too because I had never even tried that trick before. It was pretty random but I guess it worked out."

Kotsenburg was one of only four riders to stay upright through the first run and his score of 93.50 held up through 21 more attempts, including two from Parrot, who had the top score in qualifying on Thursday.

Parrot was heading toward a great first run, but fell on his last triple-jump attempt, then, as the last rider in the competition, had a fairly clean second run with just one triple-jump and a couple of wobbles, winding up off the podium in fifth.

That left Kotsenburg at the top and he thrust his arms in the air in celebration, finishing ahead of Staale Sandbech of Norway and McMorris.

"As much as you want to stay on top, you want (the others) to get a good score too because I grew up with Mark and Staale. We've just become such good friends over the past couple years. It's sick to be on the podium with them and everyone is stoked for each other."

Not bad for someone with the nickname "Second-run Sage."

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