Hot Air Olympic Snowboarding Coverage

American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg wins first Sochi gold medal

Ståle Sandbech, Mark McMorris take silver and bronze in slopestyle's debut

Meet the first medalists of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. From left to right, silver medalist Ståle Sandbech of Norway, gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg of the United States, and bronze medalist Mark McMorris of Canada took home the hardware after an exhausting snowboard slopestyle battle of 12 riders hungry for the podium—and the sport’s first Olympic medals. Photo by Chris Wellhausen/TransWorld SNOWboarding

Meet the first medalists of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: (L to R) Ståle Sandbech (NOR), silver; Sage Kotsenburg (USA), gold; and Mark McMorris (CAN), bronze. The medals also were the first-ever Olympic hardware for the slopestyle discipline. Photo by Chris Wellhausen/TransWorld Snowboarding

It was a moment both humbling and historic for 20-year-old Sage Kotsenburg Saturday afternoon. In the first-ever medal event of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, he earned the first gold not just from Sochi, but the first ever in snowboard slopestyle’s Olympic debut. And he did it his way, with inventive runs that made an impression on the judges—like his Holy Crail, a trick that he invented this past fall in hopes of becoming a contender.

It was a surprise even to Kotsenburg, who, though always a strong force on Team USA, and despite qualifying second in the semifinals earlier Saturday morning, never imagined climbing to the top of the podium:

[RELATED: Who is Sage Kotsenburg? Watch the TransWorld Snow series Holy Crail]

Kotsenburg’s first run, which included the first-ever competition backside 1620 Japan grab, earned him a 93.5, a score that would carry the day.

Kotsenburg's trademark creativity was at its peak during Saturday's finals. Photo by Chris Wellhausen/TransWorldSNOWboarding

Kotsenburg’s trademark creativity was at its peak during Saturday’s finals. His Holy Crail has become his calling card this season. Photo by Chris Wellhausen/TransWorld Snowboarding

Canadian Mark McMorris has been the first-place favorite for months—yet he finished, shockingly, with the bronze. McMorris fell on his first finals run, settling into a disappointing ninth place out of 12 after the rest of the field had had their first go. His second attempt was inarguably solid, including a backside 540 over the Russian nesting doll, a Cab triple cork 1260, and a frontside double cork 1080, finishing with a backside triple cork 1440. Twitter was aflame during the event, with snowboarding fans calling foul on the judges once again for their scoring of the 20-year-old from Saskatchewan; he earned only an 88.75, though it was enough to bump him into silver-medal position.

Ultimately, however, McMorris’ second-place finish would be stolen by Norwegian Ståle Sandbech, whose 91.75-point second run included technical jib tricks like a 450 off the cannon feature and a kicker series of switch frontside 1260 to frontside 1440 to a backside triple cork Indy 1440.

In snowboarding, friendship and fun win out in the end no matter how the standings shake out. Gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg (USA) is hoisted in the air by silver medalist Ståle Sandbeck (NOR) after the conclusion of the men’s slopestyle final in Sochi. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

In snowboarding, friendship and fun win out in the end no matter how the standings shake out. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

The event kept a frenzied pace for its entire duration; it was clear from the get-go that every rider in the final was ready to push to, and past, their absolute limits for a shot at the podium. The 1620—four complete rotations in the air—is a trick rarely seen in competition, but it was unleashed by Kotsenburg, Canadian Maxence Parrot, Peetu Piirionen of Finland, and Great Britain’s Billy Morgan. Some variation on the 1440 seemed mandatory, and the athletes didn’t hold back, even at the risk of falling on the landing.

In fact, the energy was so high and the one-upmanship so spirited, it didn’t even seem to occur to those lucky enough to witness this incredible event to wonder how Shaun White would have fared had he not dropped out of the competition earlier in the week.

Sal Masekela, longtime host of the X Games and current NBC talent, summed it up best with this tweet:

With so much history being made at the slopestyle finals, it would have been hard to have been any more on the edge of your seat. Next up in snowboarding are the women’s slopestyle semifinals, which will go live on NBCOlympics.com at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sochi time.

MEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE FINAL RESULTS
1. Sage Kotsenburg (USA)
2. Ståle Sandbech (NOR)
3. Mark McMorris (CAN)
4. Sven Thorgren (SWE)
5. Maxence Parrot (CAN)
6. Jamie Nicholls (GBR)
7. Peetu Piiroinen (FIN)
8. Yuki Kadono (JPN)
9. Sebastien Toutant (CAN)
10. Billy Morgan (GBR)
11. Roope Tonteri (FIN)
12. Gjermund Braaten (NOR)

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