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Park City resident Sage Kotsenburg wins Sochi's first gold medal in snowboard slopestyle

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8 2014 9:55 p.m. MST

United States' Sage Kotsenburg celebrates after winning the men's snowboard slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Andy Wong, Associated Press

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — If Sage Kotsenburg wanted to win a prize no one thought he could, he decided he needed to do something he'd never done.

Frustrated all week with how to balance what he wanted to do in the first-ever Olympic slopestyle snowboarding contest with what he thought might please the judges, the 20-year-old Park City native said he was just relieved to make the finals Saturday at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

But as he made his way back up to the top of the course for the finals, his spontaneous style moved him to run a crazy idea past his coach.

“I had this in my mind all day,” he said, a flag draped around his neck after winning the first gold medal of the 2014 Olympic Games with a score of 93.50 points. “I called my brother. I talked to (the U.S. team coach), and I was like, 'I think I’m going to go back 16 Japan,' and he was like, ‘Send it. What have you got to lose?' And then I landed it."

Adrenaline, pressure and a desire to show the world that snowboarding is as much about style as it is big tricks, convinced Kotsenburg that he could land a trick he’d never even imagined before Saturday.

“I’d never even tried it before in my life, literally,” he said, admitting he surprised himself by winning Olympic gold. “That’s what’s cool about snowboarding. You can go out there and try your own trick, put your own flair on it. ... Just to land it at the Olympics is so cool. This sport is based on what you want to do. There is no blueprint. You can really make your own mark, do your own tricks.”

Kotsenburg won without throwing a triple, although he offered the most unique tricks, including a rail grab he invented called “The Holy Crail.” Norway’s Staale Sandbech earned silver with 91.75 points, while Canada’s Mark McMorris, who broke his ribs competing at X Games two weeks ago, earned bronze at 88.75.

Canadian Max Parrot, who entered the finals in first place but finished fifth, said he was happy for Kotsenburg.

“He’s got his own personal style, and I’m happy that he showed that off today,” Parrot said. “I think this was a really good show, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to show my own personal style. I’m happy the whole world now knows our sport.”

While some suggested the victory showed that judges value style over huge tricks, specifically triple flips, others said there are a lot of ways to make a run both challenging and entertaining.

"Sage’s run was really technical, even though his tricks are ridiculously stylish," said Billy Morgan of Great Britain. "Putting the extra grabs and different grabs in tricks just adds to the difficulty. So really, as he does his style, he’s putting way more difficulty on his tricks, which is why Sage is now the Olympic champion."

Two-time Olympic gold medal winner in alpine skiing Picabo Street was in the finish area waiting to give Kotsenburg a massive hug. She said his victory sends a message to snowboarders that going bigger isn’t always the best way to win.

“The message that I got was that the judges are looking for style,” Street said. “This isn’t a big-air competition. This is can you go big and stick the tricks? Can you ride the jib? Can you balance these things.”

She was thrilled the first gold medal of the Sochi Games belonged to her adopted hometown of Park City.

“I think it’s fantastic to see (the sport) debut,” she said. “I loved to see that Sage won. Sage is such a good kid.”

She attributed some of his success to growing up in Park City.

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