words: T. Bird
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes
Sage Kotsenburg may have single-handedly changed competitive slopestyle snowboarding forever here today in Sochi.
But first, lemme tell you how it all went down.
Slopestyle's inaugural inclusion in the Winter Olympic Games has not gone unnoticed by the world, as much of the criticism in Sochi right now is centered around its athletes. That is, aside from the fact that the mainstream media is choosing to focus on water quality, gay rights, terror threats, stray dog genocide, and other non-riding related topics while the miniscule amount they do choose to feature is highlighted by guy-in-the-sky ticker images and corny, uninformed headers. However, with Cheryl Maas flashing a palm in what many considered to be the first athlete at the Games to speak out against Russia's anti-gay legislation, Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev's StepChild base graphic that could or could not be a nod to infamous Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot who were imprisoned by the Putin regime for what some believe to be unlawful demonstration, the McMorris and Kotsenburg judging-gate, Torstein's injury due to "safety issues" with the course and Shaun White's subsequent pull-out due to said issues which led to a virtual firestorm of tweets, shares, and op-eds, slopestyle has certainly made an impact here in Sochi.
Today, the first-ever slopestyle gold medalist was crowned in the men's field, and even though the top-grossing rider of all-time wasn't there, it is my personal opinion that he would not have shaken up the podium had he even dropped in. With that out of the way, eight riders had qualified directly into the finals, with Stale Sandbech, Peetu Piiroinen, Sebastien Toutant, Jamie Nicholls, defending X Games slopestyle gold medalist Maxence Parrot, Roope Tonteri, Sven Thorgren, and Gjermund Bråten having earned to opportunity to sit back and watch Chas Guldemond, Billy Morgan, Niklas Mattsson, Emil Ulsletten, Charles Reid, Alexey Sobolov, Scotty James, Lucien Koch, Yuki Kadono, Mathias Weissenbacher, Torgeir Bergrem, Seppe Smits, Clemens Schattschneider, Mark McMorris, Sage Kotsenburg, Ryan Stassel, Jan Scherrer, Ville Paumola, Janne Korpi, Seamus O'Connor, and Adrian Krainer battle it out for a spot in the afternoon's finals. To many people's surprise, there wasn't a single American in the men's field that qualified for finals, but a few would sneak in during semis. When the finals field was set, it was the aforementioned eight riders as well as the UK's Billy Morgan, Sage Kotsenburg from the US, Mark McMorris from Canada, and Yuki Kadono from Japan who were strapping in with the hopes of taking home snowboarding's ultimate piece of hardware to hang around their necks.
Billy put down the highest scoring run of the day, capped off by an incredible backside 1440 triple cork after stomping back-to-back double corks, setting the bar for finals and informing the crowd that it would indeed take double corks or triples on every jump to take home the gold. Sage's run included a layback tailpress to back 180 and a variation of unique grabs in his jump line (rocket airs and the infamous Holy Crail) to place him in second. The murmur throughout the crowd was undoubtedly McMorris, who fell on his final hit in run one and was in danger of not making the finals, but as always, when it counted, Mark put down a Cab 1260 double cork, a front ten double cork, and a backside 1440 triple cork, placing himself in finals contention. Yuki Kadono sat on the bubble for longer than he wanted to and had to watch Chas Guldemond drop last and potentially bump him out, but Chas couldn't quite overcome a bobble in the landing of his switch back ten and fell short of qualifying, and Kadono moved on to finals.
At exactly 12:45 MSK, the first ever snowboard slopestyle final took place at Rosa Khutor's Extreme Park and with all the hype that's been shrouding the best park jumpers in the world, it was finally their time to show the world what slopestyle snowboarding is all about, and in this journalist's humble opinion, it exceeded all expectations that I had coming into the Games. Not just from the standpoint of these riders making their presence known to the world and introducing the discipline to the masses, but also the fact that they've had to overcome the awkward humor of a certain NBC Olympic host before the Games even started, deal with the media's shitstorm of baited questions about Shaun pulling out of slope due to course safety on the very first day, brush off a supposed judging scandal on the second day, and try to focus on the most important event of their lives amid concerns of terror strikes and unfinished accommodations since slopestyle was voted in. Instead, the riders have held true to their ultimate objective and not played into all the hype, and the finals was a personification of not just their uniform ideology but of their unparalleled skillset and that's really what this is all about.
American Sage Kotsenburg dropped in right after Mark McMorris, who went down on the second hit and Sage put down a Cab 270 to fakie, half Cab 450 out, layback tailpress to back 180, Cab double cork 1260 Holy Crail, front 1080 (off the toes) rocket air, and a backside 1620 Japan (a trick that he has never done before). That scored him a 93.50 and he held the lead all the way through the contest to take the gold. And if you'll notice, he did it without doing a triple cork. Jamie Nicholls scored an 85.50 a few runs later with a backside 270, front blunt sameway, switch boardslide, Cab 1440, switch backside 900, and a backside 1440 triple cork, and a couple laps after that, Sweden's Sven Thorgren put down a backside 270, frontside 270, backside 540 nosebonk, Cab 1260, frontside 1080, and a flat spin backside 1440 deep as all hell.
And then the suspense started. McMorris, Stale, Seb Toots, and Maxence Parrot–all riders who were considered podium favorites–were out of the top three after the first of two runs. You could feel the tension in the media corral but we also knew that they were going to come out of that start gate swinging. And they did. Mark landed a Cab 270, front blunt sameway, backside 540 nosebonk, Cab triple cork 1260, frontside 1080, and a backside 1440 triple cork. This was the first time that Mark has ever landed two triple corks in one run. From what I overheard, many believed he was a lock for first. His score came in at an 88.75 and put him in second place. Mark wore his smile well when the score was announced, but you could tell he was shocked. Sage remained in first place throughout the second runs as Seb, Stale, and Max were set to drop. Sage, always in a genuinely good mood, didn't look nervous at all. Seb fell, knocking him out of medal contention, but then Stale dropped and put down a Cab 270 to fakie, Cab boardslide, front blunt 450 out, Cab 1260, frontside 1440, and a backside 1440 triple cork. He was given a 91.75, good for second, bumping McMorris down to bronze. Sage was still in the lead with one rider left to drop, and it was the guy who won two golds in Aspen a few weeks back, one of them in this very discipline: Max Parrot. Max landed his run clean, and it was a frontside 270, 50-50 backside 360 out, 50-50 backside rodeo, Cab 1260 double cork, frontside 1080 double cork, and a backside 1620 triple cork. He stomped. And he was given an 87.25, which landed him in 5th place overall.
Now this is where it gets tricky, and although I'm not plugged into the internet at the moment, I'm sure it's afire with controversial social media posts regarding the judging from today. Many will say Mark got robbed, as did Max. And I may have been willing to admit that at the moment the scores came in, I may have been on that bandwagon as well, and that's because a standard was set by the triple cork. I do still believe that Mark and Max were scored a bit lower than they should've been, considering that Max posted just higher than a 97 in qualifiers with a similar run, yet today was awarded a score ten points lower. But I am personally so stoked that Sage took gold. This is what people have been asking for. And maybe the judges heard. Today, at Rosa Khutor, they judged the winning run on style rather than acrobatics, and I think that's rad. It's certainly why snowboarding as a whole was excited that Sage would be representing Team USA in Sochi. They chose the unorthodox over the redundant, and on the walk to the Press Center below the venue, I realized how big of a moment this really is for us.
Maybe triple corks are done. Maybe every slope competitor can breathe a sigh of relief for the fact that they don't have to learn a quadruple cork. Triple corks don't win contests anymore. They certainly didn't win today. Sage Kotsenburg won today, becoming the first Olympian to garner a gold at these games and the first snowboarder in history to win take top honors in slopestyle. And for that, I'm endlessly stoked for him, for us, for snowboarding. Were the judges consistent throughout the Games? No. Were they fair? Absolutely. And for that, Sage Kotsenburg is a gold medalist. Comment below if you feel the need to, but no matter how you feel about it, rest assured that snowboarding's new slopestyle ambassador is the best in the world that we could have. Let the games begin!
2014 Winter Olympics Men's Slopestyle Results:
1. Sage Kotsenburg, USA
2. Stale Sandbech, NOR
3. Mark McMorris, CAN