SOCHI, February 8 (R-Sport) – Sage Kotsenburg of the United States won the first gold medal of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Saturday, dominating the final of the new discipline of snowboard slopestyle.
Scoring 93.50 on his first run decided the gold for Kotsenburg, ahead of Norway’s Staale Sandbech with the silver on 91.75. Canada's Mark McMorris took the bronze with 88.75 after having battled a broken rib in the run-up to the Olympics.
It is the first major title for Idaho native Kotsenburg, who has twice finished second at the Winter X Games but was considered something of an outsider for the gold medal in Sochi, especially as he had to qualify for the final earlier Saturday instead of progressing directly from Thursday's first qualifying session.
"I'm really excited. It feels awesome," Kotsenburg said. "I dont know what to call it. I have no idea what's actually going on. This is the craziest thing that ever happened."
Sandbech said: "Today was such a good day compared to all the other days. It finally got soft; it was comfortable to ride. It was really fun to ride. The boys killed it. I've got two of my best friends on the podium."
McMorris' success was something of a surprise as he had broken a rib in a heavy fall at last month's Winter X Games. "I've just been through a rollercoaster over these last few weeks. To get on the podium is just a dream come true," he said.
Some top contenders missed the podium, most prominently gold medal favorite Max Parrot of Canada, the last rider in the final. Parrot’s second run was clean, and the judges kept Kotsenburg in suspense with a lengthy decision-making process before placing the Canadian fifth on 87.25.
World champion Roope Tonteri of Finland could not stitch together a clean run, slipping on his second and taking 11th place.
Slopestyle’s first Olympic showing followed controversy over the course, which has been altered to lower the height of the jumps in light of complaints from athletes that it was unsafe.
Norwegian boarder Torstein Horgsmo’s Olympic dream was ended when he broke his collarbone in training Monday, and U.S. star Shaun White withdrew from slopestyle Tuesday to focus on halfpipe, citing the injury risk.
Slopestyle sees competitors perform tricks on various rails and jumps as they speed down a specially prepared slope. There are six judges, from which the top and bottom scores are discounted.
The women’s snowboard slopestyle final is Sunday, before women’s ski slopestyle Tuesday and the men’s ski event two days later.
Updates with quotes, background.