Times wiresKRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia
Maybe it was the Back 1620 Japan Air that Sage Kotsenburg landed. Or the Cab Double Cork 1260 with a Holy Crail grab. Or any of the other gnarly tricks with indecipherable names the American performed flawlessly Saturday.
Maybe it was all the onion rings, chips, and chocolate Kotsenburg, 20, consumed while watching the opening ceremony on TV on Friday night in his mountainside apartment. Or, after tiring of that, the movie he turned to that, dude, "got me so stoked, it was sick."
Maybe it was the phone call he made to brother Blaze, 22 — partying in Utah at the time — just 10 minutes before the run that won him the Olympics' first snowboard slopestyle gold medal and the first gold overall of these Games.
"I said, 'DUUUDE!' " Kotsenburg recalled of the conversation. "And he's like 'WHAAAAAAAAT?' "
Whatever it was that pushed him to the performance of his life, suffice to say, it can't be bottled.
"I'm pretty surprised to win," said Kotsenburg, who had never won anything of acclaim until the fifth and final U.S. Olympic selection event in January.
"Before that, I hadn't won anything since I was, like, 11 years old."
In an event some competitors believed was tainted by American superstar Shaun White's withdrawal Tuesday for vague reasons, Norway's Staale Sandbech took silver and Canada's Mark McMorris, the gold-medal favorite who broke a rib at the X Games two weeks ago, the bronze.
Some of McMorris' teammates had been critical of White, believing that after the two-time defending halfpipe gold medalist saw the difficult course, he opted to withdraw with a slightly injured wrist and focus on his pet event.
"It kind of (stinks) that Shaun wasn't there," Kotsenburg said. "But it's kind of cool, too, because people were like, 'Whoa, there's other snowboarders?' "
On his first of two runs, Kotsenburg jetted off the first big jump of the course and whirled around for 31/2 rotations while flipping twice. All the while, he was grabbing the front of his board with one hand and the nose of the board with the other, a move he invented. That was the Cab Double Cork 1260 with a Holy Crail grab.
At the bottom, he helicoptered through 41/2 rotations while grabbing his board and flexing it behind his back, the Back 1620 Japan Air. The move never had been landed cleanly in competition, but his brother encouraged him to do it during their phone call.
"Never even tried it before," Kotsenburg said. "Never, ever tried it in my life."
Kotsenburg landed both jumps cleanly. He posted a winning score of 93.5 points.
"I kind of do random stuff all the time, never make a plan up," he said. "I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped. It's kind of what I'm all about."
Despite the excitement of Kotsenburg's tricks, head-scratching was going on elsewhere.
Sandbech, McMorris and Winter X Games champion Max Parrot were among those who threw the much-ballyhooed triple cork, which is three head-over-heels flips, a move considered much more dangerous and athletic, and presumed to be the must-have trick to win the first Olympic gold in the sport.
Kotsenburg never tried one.
There are seven or eight tricks in every run — boxes to jump on, rails to ride over and even the option to jump over the giant Russian nesting doll near the top of the course. Splashes and bobbles on any of them can cost points.
But rider after rider came off the course and concluded that Kotsenburg's win symbolized a shift in the sport — that judges are looking for more technical moves with so-called style rather than a simple gymnastics meet on the snow.
"It was kind of hard from the start to know what the judges were awarding for," Sandbech said.
Kotsenburg called his parents immediately after his triumph, and the conversation with his father, a real estate salesman, was eerily like the one he'd had with his brother:
"I'm like, 'Dad!' And he's like, 'WHAAAAAAAAT?' "