Sage Kotsenburg, 20, will join Shaun White, 27, as the first two official members of the 2014 U.S. Olympic snowboard slopestyle team after his first-place finish in Saturday's Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California. When the complete slopestyle team is named later this week, two other riders will potentially join this duo in Sochi, Russia, come February, but for now it's White and Kotsenburg who will be representing the U.S. in the discipline's Olympic debut.
Between the two of them, they've got the spectrum of shred covered. White is the face of Olympic snowboarding and is its fiercest, most calculated, and most determined competitor; his sights are set firmly on the top of the podium no matter the event. For him, snowboarding is a mission to be accomplished, and with a fully staffed support team complete with physical therapist, coaches, and publicists to help him, he'll do just that. This path has clearly paid off: White has two Olympic gold medals to his name already, and two more are up for grabs this February.
To say there is no joy or satisfaction in what White is doing out there would be a disservice, but the fun factor doesn't appear to rank highly on his entourage's to-do list. Kotsenburg, on the other hand, is an un-jaded soul shredder who can maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude after bludgeoning his face in practice runs like he did on Friday's doubleheader. Finding himself too bogged down in the Olympic team-making hoopla, he went into Saturday's final determined to leave the numbers game to agents, media, and betting types, putting the focus back on the fun.
"Yesterday I was so over it," Kotsenburg admitted to GrindTV Saturday. "I just wanted to go out and snowboard and leave the politics and mathematics and statistical side alone and just snowboard, because that's what we're here for." That approach paid off, placing him on top of the podium for the first time in nearly 10 events (in his own estimation) and earning him a ticket to Sochi. His performance in Qualifier No. 5 reminded him that "we love competing to snowboard and not for the statistics"; when he gets to Sochi, he says, his strategy is to "have a bunch of fun, because that's when I ride my best."
We'll see whose Olympic plan works best, but if gold medals are given out for having the most fun, my money's on Kotsenburg.
On the women's side, Ty Walker, 17, now joins Jamie Anderson, 23, as the first two official members of the women's U.S. Olympic snowboard slopestyle team. Karly Shorr and Jessica Jenson placed second and third in Saturday's final—Shorr’s finish enough to momentarily tie her with Walker in the rankings. (Ultimately, Walker’s previous placings won her the official tiebreaker.) If the U.S. Olympic Team takes a full roster in women's slopestyle, however, both Shorr and Jenson will head to Sochi.
Despite having clinched her spot in Qualifier No. 3 on Thursday, Anderson has continued to compete at all the subsequent events and push her level of riding. She won four of the five Grand Prix contests, all on her first run. Never taking a victory lap, however, Anderson chooses to use those opportunities to try new tricks, like Saturday's Cab 900—"more than anything because it's so fun, it's beautiful weather, and the park is all time," she told Grind TV.
The final Olympic halfpipe qualifier starts tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. EST at Mammoth Mountain and will be live on NBC from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST. Official U.S. Olympic Team naming will take place immediately afterward at the contest venue. Check www.ussnowboarding.com for full details.
More Winter Olympics stories on GrindTV