Sage Kotsenburg still flying high
February 12, 2014
What was Sage Kotsenburg thinking about after winning the first-ever Olympic snowboard slopestyle medal?
Probably about the history he had just made, right? Not only was it the first medal in the new Olympic sport, it was also the first medal awarded at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Or maybe about the stardom he had gained in a matter of minutes? After all, Kobe Bryant doesn’t tweet congratulatory messages to just anyone. And not everyone gets a chance to go on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and Al Roker. Add in future appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and you could probably forgive Sage for being a little starstruck.
But none of those things were on his mind – he was missing the fresh powder in Park City and wishing he could be snowboarding with his brother again.
"I told him how much it had been snowing [in Park City] and he was like, ‘I’m so jealous. I’m not even snowboarding right now,’" Blaze Kotsenburg said. "He’s not used to the spotlight."
The Kotsenburg boys used to joke about famous people ever knowing they existed. Now those jokes have become the reality.
"We used to joke about people like Kobe Bryant ever even talking to him," Blaze said. "The fact that he tweeted at him, I just laughed about it. We used to joke ‘What if you ever won the Olympics?’ And it was like, ‘Haha, yeah, I don’t know.’ Now we know."
But that doesn’t mean Kotsenburg will change his style. He doesn’t want his Olympic medal to change the way people think of him.
"They’re kind of holding him up and saying he saved snowboarding," Carol Ann Kotsenburg, Sage’s mother, said. "He doesn’t like that – he doesn’t want to be anybody’s hero. He says, ‘I just want to go ride.’"
It didn’t look like Sage would have to worry about the fame associated with a gold medal after Thursday’s qualification runs. Despite landing every jump he attempted, the judges were seemingly unimpressed, handing him middle-of-the-pack scores.
So, for Saturday’s semifinals (where he managed to earn a spot in the medal round) and finals, Sage got back to doing what he does best – having fun.
"The judging was kind of all over the map – for everybody," Steve Kotsenburg, Sage’s father, said of the opening round. "I think he decided, ‘I’m just going to go and do what I’m all about.’"
Finally, things started going Sage’s way, earning him a spot in the finals. But, even then, Carol Ann said the family wasn’t necessarily confident that the judges would see what she sees in her son’s runs.
"At that point, I was thinking he might have a shot at a medal," she said. "Never in a million years did I think it would be a gold. The judges have never given him that nod – he’s in second a lot."
In true Sage form, the 20-year-old Parkite decided that the final run of his Olympic debut would be the perfect spot to try to land a brand-new trick – a 1620 Japan.
"When he stomped that run, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think he just did a new trick! I don’t even know what that was,’" Carol Ann said.
"Sage can pull off anything he ever thinks of," Blaze added. "When he told me he was going to do that, I had already seen him accidentally do that – he almost landed it on accident a couple weeks ago. It didn’t surprise me that he landed it at all."
When the score of 93.50 popped up on their screens, and as that score continued to stand as more and more competitors finished their runs, the Kotsenburgs began to celebrate, even though they were all watching it in separate rooms.
"We don’t watch together because we drive each other nuts [watching Sage]," Carol Ann said. "When he won, I could hear [Steve] yelling and crying and Kirra [Sage’s sister] screaming upstairs. I was shaking."
"Sage isn’t a claimer (someone who celebrates a strong run)," Steve added. "When he does a good run, he knows it’s good, but he doesn’t claim it. We knew when his arms went up [after his final run], he felt good. I think he knew he did what he wanted to do. I just couldn’t move my arms – I wasn’t moving."
For Blaze, who was watching with friends in Salt Lake City, the fact that the finals ended in the wee hours of the morning didn’t stop the celebration.
"I lost my mind," he said. "I was half laughing, but completely crying, hugging all my friends and saying lots of swear words. It was pretty insane – it was like four in the morning and everyone was yelling for like 10 minutes. I’m sure the neighbors were not that happy."
"We’re enjoying this with a lot of friends and family members and people in the community," Steve said. "We all got a piece of this together – that’s how we feel."
But, Blaze added, don’t expect the historic accomplishment to change Sage – he’ll be back on the slopes of Park City before the Olympics are even over.
"He’ll be out there the day he gets back [from Sochi]," he said. "I know he told his agent, ‘Yeah, [winning gold is] sick, but how soon can you get me out of here?’"