An eight-year old Park City boy stood in the crowd craning his head for a view of the halfpipe. It was February 11, 2002. It wasn't hard to get caught up in the excitement that day. Ross Powers busting through with the win. Danny Kass taking silver and J.J. Thomas picking up bronze. A USA sweep. Now, that was cool, thought the young boy. This is what I want to do when I grow up.
Last Monday that eight-year old boy now a very athletic 20-year-old sat next to the soon to be executive director of the International Olympic Committee. Together, they were addressing media about the new Olympic sports. But this time, the gold medal was his. In the nearly 48 hours since he won, a wave of kids around the world learned his name. He was an Olympic champion. And he was inspiring the world.
With one massive 1620, Park City's Sage Kotsenburg single-handedly introduced the newest Olympic sport of slopestyle snowboarding to the world in Rosa Khutor last Saturday. All the years riding rails and hucking off features in King's Crown at Park City Mountain Resort were paying off.
"I grew up in Park City, Utah, and watched the Olympics in 2002," he said. "The highlight was watching Ross Powers, Danny Kass and JJ Thomas sweep the podium. I had watched some snowboard movies but never seen it in person. Twelve years later I'm sitting here with a gold medal - it feels so unreal."
Sage is part of the Legacy generation Park City kids who were motivated in 2002 who are now carving their own path. He's in good company with the likes of Ted Ligety, Sarah Hendrickson, Jessica Jerome, Lindsey Van and many more.
U.S. Snowboarding coach Mike Jankowski met Sage the next year an energetic nine-year-old whose whole summer was built around camp at Mt. Hood. He wore an oversized camp sweatshirt that hung down to his knees. It was always wet soaking wet. Young Sage simply couldn't get enough time on the rails. When coach told him to train in the pipe, he couldn't wait to get back into the park. When they closed the park each day, they had to kick him out. But he still managed one more run.
Back then, there was little talk about slopestyle becoming an Olympic event. Even still, Sage kept his eye on it and made it known, 'if slopestyle is ever in the Olympics, I want to be there.'
Slopestyle's road to the Olympics took a quick turn in 2011, thanks to the man next to Kotsenburg on the stage Monday. Then IOC Sport Director Christophe Dubi knew that to keep relevance with kids, the Olympics had to look at new events. Go to any resort today and the hub of activity is the park and pipe. That's what the Olympics needed.
"For the IOC it's important to review the program on a regular basis to make sure it remains relevant," said Dubi. "While we need to preserve our history, at the same time we have to remain relevant and make sure that we capture new audiences."
So in 2011, much to the surprise of many, the IOC brought in slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, along with halfpipe skiing all activities directly connected to what kids are doing at resorts worldwide.
On the afternoon of his gold medal performance, Sage left his board and gear behind, climbed into a Sochi medals ceremony van and life hasn't been the same. From Matt Lauer to The Today Show to GMA and Fox, he became the first new start of the Sochi Olympics. Next stop, a media blitz of America to tell the story of slopestyle and a kid who found his calling back in 2002.
When the IOC rolled the dice on slopestyle three years ago, few would have imagined that day. "It was really a grand entrance for slopestyle," said Dubi.
Yes, indeed. It was.