Sage's wisdom truly crazy

First U.S. winner, Kotsenburg, leads 'extreme' takeover

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Those gnarly dude guys on snowboards continue to take over the Olympics. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date when this began. But every four years at the Winter Games, the gnarly dudes happen.

"Random is kind of my thing," said America's newest Olympic hero, Sage Kotsenburg, who won the first gold medal of the Sochi Games Saturday.

Just don't ask me to describe how Kotsenburg did it, exactly. But I can affirm that his performance in the Olympics' first-ever slopestyle competition was indeed spectacularly random.

It was also sick. And not janky at all. Kotsenburg, 20, said he "tweaked my grabs" successfully.

Got that? You'd better get stoked about learning the lingo. Because these acrobatic events on snow are not going away. Instead, they are growing like a mogul fungus, assuming that moguls can indeed grow fungus.

And the extreme athletes do have a certain ... um, crunchy mojo about them. That is why their taking over of the more traditional Olympic events -- figure skating, downhill skiing, hockey -- is so noticeable. Snowboarding was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1992. And every four years, the discipline has added more events -- and even sprouted into a separate extreme segment under the umbrella of freestyle skiing. The reason is twofold.

One, the Winter Olympics feature far fewer sports than Summer Games, so Winter organizers are always looking for attractive additions to the schedule.

And two, the aerial stunts perpetrated by the likes of Kotsenburg -- as well as Shaun White, the world's most famous gnarly dude snowboarder -- are unbeatable eye candy. Television cameras worship the extreme events. Directors and producers weep in joy at the slow-motion replays of all the mid-air spinning and tumbling (and grabbing).

This, in turn, explains why snowboarders and free skiers often develop into the Games' biggest rock stars. Kotsenburg earned his status Saturday. He promised to "keep things weird" and then delivered on that promise, big time.

Last week, there was disappointment in USA circles when White withdraw from the new slopestyle event, which is sort of a downhill obstacle course featuring structures and rails early on, then a series of snow ramps to send boarders sailing into space for four or five seconds worth of aerial mayhem. White, who has injuries, chose to concentrate on the upcoming halfpipe competition instead.

But no worries, bro! Into the American breach stepped Kotsenburg, a mellow blond with long hair who grew up snowboarding in Utah and might be even more of a free spirit than White.

Actually, scratch the "might be." Kotsenburg made a truly crazy choice Saturday here at Rose Khutor Extreme Park. He went beyond rogue, even in a rogue sport.

The setup: Kotsenburg was a large underdog in the slopestyle event. He needed to navigate an extra semifinal round of qualifying just to reach the final. Once there, he had nothing to lose. So he aimed to impress the judges by spontaneously attempting a trick he had never tried before, even in practice -- the "Back 16 Japan" with 41/2 spinning doodles or twizzles while grabbing the back of his snowboard.

As a bonus, Kotsenburg also unveiled a jump that he invented just three months ago, the "Holy Crail," with other sorts of indescribable doodles and twizzles.

"I had no idea I'd do it until three minutes before I jumped," Kotsenburg said.

On his first run, he posted the highest score of the day. Then he watched all the other gnarly dudes plow and fly down the hill.

None of their scores beat Kotsenburg's. As with all judged sports, the result was highly subjective. But none of the losers grumbled too loud.

"I'm pretty surprised to win," admitted Kotsenburg, who last month broke a long victory drought by claiming first prize at an event on the slopestyle circuit.

"Before that, I hadn't won anything since I was, like, 11."

And, like, that's pretty awesome. As a new Olympic champ, Kotsenburg should be in position to, like, call his own random shots for the rest of his career. He's young enough that he should be around for the next two or three Olympics. But after tossing and turning nervously in bed Friday night, he had just one request Saturday after the medal ceremony.

"I really need some sleep right now," he said.


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