All Photos: Chris Wellhausen
Sage Kotsenburg Wins Slopestyle Gold at the Sochi 2014 Olympics
Holy shit! Did anyone see this coming? As an underdog heading into the Sochi Olympics, America’s Sage Kotsenburg would have been happy just to make slopestyle finals, but today he walked away with snowboarding's first Olympic gold medal. The best part? He won entirely on his own terms, with a unique set of tricks outside of the triple corks that have dominated contest snowboarding for the past two years.
We like to say that snowboarding is about fun, creativity, style, and progression--four things Sage has always valued and equally tried to demonstrate in his riding. He hasn't always been rewarded for that in contests though as judges have consistently scored his super tweaked tricks lower than other riders doing triple corks with stock grabs, which are generally accepted as the hardest move in slopestyle thus far. But Sage’s first run in finals changed all that (forget the Second Run Sage moniker). His line was not only technical but packed with moves that no one else was doing like a layback tail press backside 180 out and Cab Double Cork 1260 Holy Crail grab, basically a contorted japan and crossrocket mashup. And while style is undoubtedly a crucial part of snowboarding's identity, it was his backside 1620 japan that truly locked up Sage's victory.
Sage Kotsenburg with his Cab 1260 Holy Crail of victory. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen.
“I like doing crazy things, like spontaneous moves,” Sage said of how he approached his run. “I just had this idea in my mind all day and it ended up working out. I called my brother and I talked to Bill Enos, the US Team coach, and I said ‘I think I might go back 16 japan.’ He was just like, ‘Send it! What do you have to lose?'”
Time will tell how this all plays out, but Sage’s win could represent a shift in contest snowboarding because it was long predicted that any rider with gold medal hopes would need a least one triple cork to win, if not two. But in the here-and-now, the fact that triple corks weren't scoring very high was devastating for Olympic slopestyle favorite Mark McMorris.
Mark came to Sochi to win. After paving the way to the podium for the last two years with his backside triple cork 1440 it didn't seem like he could lose. Why would he think otherwise? Judges at events like the Dew Tour and X Games have always rewarded triple corks above everything else. So when Mark set down a Cab triple underflip, frontside double cork 1080, and backside triple cork 1440 on his second run he rightfully expected the highest score of the day. At least that's what it looked like based off his expression as he waited for his score. But again, like qualifiers, Mark's grin turned to confusion when he was given an 88.75.
"Unexplainable," Mark said of his score. "The amount of ups and downs, it's actually funny at this point. It's over. I'm so glad. To ride the way you want to ride is the most important and the rest is up to the judges. I'm happy with everything, the outcome. A lot of people think it should have been different but I'm going to still smile and represent Canada the best I can."
Mark's score was not what any of the other riders expected either because once they saw that the judges weren't putting a run with two triple corks at the top, everyone who followed started to change things up. Stale Sandbech, for one, read the message loud and clear. "I was planning to do the Cab triple, but I figured they didn't score the highest scores for that trick," he said. "So I changed it up to the Cab 12, with a more tweaked grab, kind of my own way of doing the trick." Using that bit of knowledge, Stale rode away with Olympic silver.
Stale Sandbech's Olympic slopestyle silver medal run
The revelation that two triple corks in a run wouldn't necessarily deliver a medal today also effected Canadian Max Parrot, who was another rider heavily favored to medal at Sochi. Although capable of getting two triples, Max dialed it back on his second run doing a Cab 1260, frontside double cork 1260, and backside triple cork 1620 on his last run, which was only good enough for fifth with a 87.25.
Overall, the debut of Olympic slopestyle snowboarding produced both upsets and results that could create far reaching changes for contest riding and judging. Never a dull moment here at Sochi.
Full Olympic slopestyle results
1. Sage Kotsenburg (USA) -- 93.50
2. Stale Sandbech (Norway) -- 91.75
3. Mark McMorris (Canada) -- 88.75
4. Sven Thorgren (Sweden) -- 87.50
5. Max Parrot (Canada) -- 87.25
6. Jamie Nicholls (England) -- 85.50
7. Peetu Piiroinen (Finland) -- 81.25
8. Yuki Kadono (Japan) -- 75.75
9. Sebastian Toutant (Canada) -- 58.50
10. Billy Morgan (England) -- 39.75
11. Roope Tonteri (Finland) -- 39.00
12. Gjermund Braaten (Norway) -- 24.75