Sage Kotsenburg, other US snowboarders head to semifinals in first-ever Olympic slopestyle event

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6 2014 6:15 p.m. MST

United States' Sage Kotsenburg takes a jump during the men's snowboard slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Sergei Grits, AP

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Sage Kotsenburg really wants to make the Olympic slopestyle snowboarding judges' jaws drop.

If he happens to earn an Olympic medal for doing so, that would simply be the proverbial icing on the snowboarding cake.

The problem is he can’t seem to do what he wants to do — innovative, unique tricks that snowboarding aficionados appreciate — and coax those big numbers from the judges.

After failing to finish in the top four of his qualification heat Thursday afternoon at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, he will have to earn his spot in Saturday’s finals with a top-four finish in Saturday’s semifinal round. He increased the difficulty of some of his grabs and tricks, but he actually scored lower on his second run and was visibly frustrated when the score appeared.

“I know they want to see good stomp stuff,” said the 20-year old Park City resident, who finished ninth in his heat with 86.5 points. “I’m just trying to do creative stuff, and it’s pretty hard when they aren’t rewarding you. It’s hard on your mind. You’re trying to think differently and doing stuff that other people aren’t doing. And it’s a lot harder honestly to do these grabs and tricks and when they don’t reward you, it just sucks.”

Kotsenburg’s frustration is that he’s not exactly sure what the judges value most. This is the first appearance of slopestyle snowboarding in the Olympic Games, and he said the issues have made it a roller-coaster season.

“It’s been a really confusing year, honestly,” he said. “I’ve been trying to bring some new stuff to the table, and just keep it fresh to watch for people inside snowboarding. Now we’re at the global stage and getting people outside snowboarding to see that there is another side besides just spinning with the same grabs and doing he same tricks. ... It’s tough for sure.” Kotsenburg’s specialty is pulling off grabs that contort his body unnaturally while he does high-flying stunts.

“My body is going one way, but I’m spinning the other way,” he explained. “So it’s way harder to get (tricks) around and kind of land them.”

When asked if he would change his run to try and earn higher scores, he said he wasn’t sure.

“I’d rather not,” he said. “This is what I think snowboarding is all about. It’s how I ride. So I’d rather just not conform to making the judges happy because that’s not what I’m all about.”

Kotsenburg and other athletes said reports that the extreme park is too dangerous have been overblown. They said it’s standard operating procedure to ride a course for a day before giving the course designers feedback about what to tweak.

“I think the media blew the dangerousness of the course up quite a bit,” said Chas Guldemond, who finished fifth in his heat and will compete in Saturday’s semifinal with Kotsenburg and teammate Ryan Stassel.

“Everything we’ve done here is completely normal,” Guldemond said. “It’s the second-best course of the year, compared to the X Games. I’m happy with it, and they did a good job.”

While Kotsenburg was disappointed to see two-time snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White withdraw from the slopestyle competition, he said he understood.

“It would have been awesome to have him in here today,” he said. “He could have put down a super sick run that could contend, but it’s his choice. And he doesn’t want to risk it when he’s going for the first ever three gold medals in a row. That’s a huge feat.”

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