KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Those gnarly dude guys on snowboards continue to hijack the Olympics. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date when this hijacking began. But every four years at the Winter Games, the gnarly dudes happen.
“Random is kind of my thing,” said America's newest Olympic hero, a 20-year-old named Sage Kotsenburg, who won the first gold medal of the Sochi Games here Saturdayafternoon.
Just don't ask me to describe how Kotsenburg did it, exactly. But I can affirm that his performance in the Olympics' first-ever slopestyle competition was indeed spectacularly random.
It was also sick. And not janky at all. Kotsenburg said he “tweaked my grabs” successfully.
Got that? You'd better get stoked about learning the lingo. Because these acrobatic events on snow are not going away. Instead, they are growing like a mogul fungus, assuming that moguls can indeed grow fungus. If so, the competitors probably would smoke some.
Sorry! Stereotyping there! But the extreme athletes do have a certain . . . um, crunchy mojo about them. That is why their hijacking of the more traditional Olympic events — figure skating, downhill skiing, hockey — is so noticeable. Snowboarding was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1992. And every four years, the discipline has added more events — and even sprouted into a separate extreme segent known as freestyle skiing. The reason is twofold.
One, the Winter Olympics features far fewer sports than Summer Games, so Winter organizers are always looking for attractive additions to the schedule.
And two, the aerial stunts perpetrated by the likes of Kotsenberg — as well as Shaun White, the world's most famous gnarly dude snowboarder — is unbeatable eye candy. Television cameras worship the extreme events. Directors and producers weep in joy at the slow motion replays of all the mid-air spinning and tumbling (and grabbing.)
This, in turn, explains why snowboarders and free skiers often develop into the Games' biggest rock stars. Kotsenburg earned his status Saturday. He promised to “keep things weird” and then delivering on that promise, big time.
Last week, there was disappointment in USA circles when White withdraw from the new slopestyle event, which is sort of a downhill obstacle course featuring structures and rails early on, then a series of snow ramps to send boarders sailing into space for four or five seconds worth of aerial mayhem. White, who is nursing injuries, chose to concentrate on the upcoming halfpipe competition instead.
But no worries, bro! Into the American breach stepped Kotsenburg, a mellow blonde longhair who grew up snowboarding in Utah and might be an even more free spirit than White.
Actually, scratch the “might be” phraseology. Kotsenburg made a truly crazy choice here Saturday at Rose Khutor Extreme Park. He went beyond rogue, even in a rogue sport.
The setup: Kotsenburg was a large underdog in the slopestyle event. He needed to navigate an extra semifinal round of qualifying just to reach the finals. Once there, he had nothing to lose. So he aimed to impress the judges by spontaneously attempting a trick he had never tried before, even in practice — the “Back 16 Japan” with four and a half spinning doodles or twizzles while grabbing the back of his snowboard.
As a bonus, Kotsenburg also unveiled a jump that he'd invented just three months ago, the “Holy Crail,” with other sorts of indescribable doodles and twizzles.
“I had no idea I'd do it until three minutes before I jumped,” Kotsenburg said.
Wicked-osity! (Is that a snowboarding term? Should be.) Kotsenburg executed every one of his moves perfectly on his two final passes down the hill. On his first run, he posted the day's highest score. Then he watched all the other gnarly dudes plow and fly down the hill.
None of their scores beat Kotsenburg's. As with all judged sports, the result was highly subjective. But none of the losers grumbled too loud.
“Sage is a super-creative snowboarder,” said silver medalist Staale Sandbech of Norway. “I kind of saw in the first run that the judges were rewarding grabs.”
“I'm pretty surprised to win,” admitted Kotsenburg, who last month broke a long victory drought by claiming first prize at an event on the slopestyle circuit.
“Before that,” he said, “I hadn't won anything since I was, like, 11 years old.”
And, like, that's pretty awesome. As a new Olympic champ, Kotsenburg should be in position to, like, call his own random shots for the rest of his career. He's young enough that he should be around for the next two or three Olympics. But after tossing and turning nervously in bed Friday night, he had just one request following Saturday's medal ceremony.
“I really need some sleep right now,” said Kotsenberg.
He promised to doze off as weirdly as possible. Meanwhile, back up on the mountain, more gnarly dudes (and dudettes) await over the next two weeks. Up here at Extreme Park, the hijacking of Sochi 2014 is just getting started.