Kotsenburg claims first gold medal of Sochi 2014
The USA’s Sage Kotsenburg claimed the first gold medal of Sochi 2014 on Saturday when he won the men's snowboard slopestyle event at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Blue skies and sunshine provided a beautiful backdrop, while hard snow made for a fast course for the first ever Olympic final in the event.
The 12 finalists were determined to do justice to the occasion and showcase their best trick and jumps, on a 600m course, where the obstacles included a giant “Matrioshka” doll (a traditional Russian doll), and which was designed for technical boarding. It made for some spectacular displays
The 20-year old Kotsenburg only qualified for the final in Saturday morning's “second chance” semi-finals, but his first run scored 93.50, a score that none of the other 11 finalists could better in the second run, despite some brilliant performances, packed with stylishly executed jumps.
Norway's Staale Sandbech (91.75) claimed silver with the penultimate run of the event while Mark McMorris of Canada, the pre-Games favourite who only just made it into the final himself via the semis, took bronze with 88.75.
During the first run, Kostenburg put together a particularly imaginative sequence that included a full repertoire of grabs, a “cannonball” off the rail and some huge jumps combined with perfect landings to prompt the judges to award him a benchmark score of 93.50, a full eight points ahead of GB’s Jamie Nichols (85.50), with Sweden’s Sven Thorgren (83.75) lying third going into the second run
When the 12 finalists resumed action, and with everyone attempting to throw down their most ambitious moves in order to overhaul Kotsenberg, there was plenty to please an enthusiastic crowd.
However, in the end only Sandbech could get anywhere near the American’s first run score, with a beautifully executed run that earned him 91.75 points and the silver medal, while McMorris saved his best until last, scoring 88.75 points for the bronze.
Kotsenburg, who only qualified for Sochi 2014 after winning the last of five qualification events in January and was not widely expected to win a medal, couldn’t contain his joy after topping the podium: "I'm really excited. It feels awesome,” he said. “This is the craziest thing that ever happened”.
And the newly crowned Olympic champion went on to offer an insight into the truly Olympian mentality that pervades the snowboard world, even at the very elite end of the sport.
"All of us were having a blast in there and you could see us high-fiving at the bottom. It's not like we're disappointed when other people come down and land a ride, we're equally as stoked for the next person to land a ride.
"I grew up with Mark [McMorris] and Staale [Sandbech], I've known them for the past six years. We've all become really good friends. We're not like enemies at all, we love each other."