On 8 February 2014 in Sochi 20-year-old Sage Kotsenburg became the first ever Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion in history.
Son of Park City
Just like fellow Sochi gold medallists Ted Ligety (Alpine skiing), Joss Christensen (freestyle skiing) and Steven Holcomb (bobsleigh), Sage Kotsenburg was born and raised in Park City, Utah, in the shadow of the Olympic Park, which built for the 2002 Winter Games And like his three compatriots Kotsenburg has been flying down the slopes of the Wasatch mountains for as long as he can remember.
He took up snowboarding aged five, following his older brother Blaze. The two of them then taught their younger sister Kirra and parents so that they could ride together as a family. Sage was a precocious talent, making a name for himself in competitions from the age of six. He originally completed in all of the snowboard disciplines - half pipe, slopestyple, boardercross, parallel slalom and giant slalom – before deciding aged 12 to focus solely on slopestyle, the discipline that would end up putting him in the history books.
Sage was fully supported by his parents when he turned pro as a teenager. He got into the habit of writing his goals on post-it notes which he would then stick onto the family fridge, taking them off and replacing them with new ones as soon as he had achieved them. He came into the spotlight in 2010 when still only 17 years old, and over the next four years his results on the American professional circuit, and the and the difficulty of his tricks increased, making him a shoo-in for qualification for Sochi2014 where slopestyle made its Olympic debut.
Blazing the trail
“We’re almost like the pioneers, reflected Kotsenburg looking back on his first Olympic experience. “We had no idea what the course was going to be like or how the vibe was going to be. I think you could tell watching that we were all having a lot of fun snowboarding and we definitely didn’t let the Olympic pressure get to us. It’s one for the history books. And for my own history book, it’s something that is up there.”
Kotsenburg didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts in Rosa Khutor, and was not among the top eight riders who progressed automatically from the qualifying round. Instead, two days after the qualifiers he had to go through the semi-finals, where a good run put him into second place. That is when he stepped up a gear. Before his first run in the final he decided to take a risk and try a new trick: a backside 1620 Japan, or 4 ½ rotations. “I threw the 1620 and it made sense in the air. It came around perfect!” he later explained. He landed all of his other tricks including a cab double cork 1260 Holy Crail and was rewarded for his effort with a strong score of 93.5.
Kotsenburg started the final third, meaning there were still nine other competitors to go after him, followed by the second run, but nobody could oust him from top spot. “It still feels so surreal and crazy,” he mused. “I was just stoked to be on the first ever US slopestyle team and that was cool enough. Going in I wanted to ride my best and hopefully get a medal. I ended up taking gold so that was just icing on the cake! It’s the best moment of my life. It happened pretty early for me, but I’m ready to keep snowboarding and see what it can bring to me. Try and just enjoy it.”
Whatever happens next, at the age of just 20, Kotsenburg secured himself a place in the history of the Winter Games as the first ever Olympic champion in his discipline.