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Kotsenburg improvises, wins gold medal

Sunday, February 9, 2014
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Sage Kotsenburg loves snowboarding for all its unexpected surprises.

Winning the first Olympic gold medal in slopestyle, for one.

And winning it with one trick he’d never tried before and another that included a self-invented grab of the board he named the “Holy Crail.”

The 20-year-old American jetted off the first big jump of the slopestyle course Saturday and whirled around for 3 1⁄2 rotations while flipping twice. All the while, he was grabbing the front of his board with one hand and the nose of the board with the other.

At the bottom, he helicoptered through 4 1⁄2 rotations, while grabbing his board and flexing it behind his back.

“Never even tried it before,” Kotsenburg said. “Never, ever tried it in my life.”

Kotsenburg landed both jumps cleanly. The fans in the mostly full stands, knowing they had seen something completely different in a completely new Olympic sport, let out a huge gasp after the second one.

On the strength of those tricks — the Cab Double Cork 1260 with a Holy Crail grab and a Back 1620 Japan Air — the kid from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, known as “Second Run Sage,” posted a winning score of 93.5 on his first run.

Nobody in the 12-man field of finalists could top him. Kotsenburg put the first gold medal of the Sochi Games into the “USA” column. Soon after, he and the other medalists, Staale Sandbech of Norway and Mark McMorris of Canada, were hugging, body-slamming and turning their sport’s “Kiss and Cry” zone into a mosh pit.

“I kind of do random stuff all the time, never make a plan up,” Kotsenburg said. “I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped. It’s kind of what I’m all about.”

Kotsenburg’s jumps were the high point of yet another sunny, windless day at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Combining all that, along with a bit of half-expected, half-legitimate griping about the judging, made it easy to forget that Shaun White had pulled out of this event before qualifying, complaining about the toughness of the course.

Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won the 10-kilometer sprint — his seventh career gold. Cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen, also from Norway, captured the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon for her fourth Olympic title.

At age 40, Bjoerndalen became the oldest Winter Olympic gold medalist in an individual sport, bringing him within one gold of the all-time mark of eight held by Norwegian cross-country skiing great Bjorn Daehlie. He was followed by Dominik Landertinger of Austria and Jaroslav Soukup of Czech Republic.

“I am in super form,” Bjoerndalen said. “I prepared well for this and I am feeling strong.”

Bjoergen’s gold was tempered by grief. The brother of teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen died “suddenly and unexpectedly” a day earlier, according to Norwegian Olympic officials. Bjoergen, joined by teammates, sobbed in an embrace after the race.

“We really did a good race for him today,” Bjoergen said.

Bjoergen held off silver medalist Charlotte Kalla in the final straightaway to win in 38 minutes, 33.6 seconds, successfully defending her title from Vancouver. Norway’s Heidi Weng won the bronze.

“One gold was my goal, so now I can relax a little bit,” Bjoergen said.

Sven Kramer of the Netherlands set an Olympic record and defended his speedskating title in the men’s 5,000 before his country’s king, queen and prime minister.

Kramer has been bedeviled at the Olympics, notably in Vancouver when his coach pointed him to the wrong lane in the 10,000. But on this day he surged around the oval, winning in six minutes, 10.76 seconds, and leading a Dutch sweep in which he was followed by Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma.

“That Sven was able to deliver despite such pressure, it leaves me speechless,” King Willem-Alexander said.

The U.S. won the opener of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, defeating Finland, 3-1, behind Hilary Knight’s goal 53 seconds into the game and Jesse Vetter’s 14 saves. The Americans can reach the semifinals by beating Switzerland on Monday. Canada beat Switzerland, 5-0.

Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe joined a few other sisters to win gold and silver in the same Olympic event. They did it in women’s moguls, where their oldest sister, Maxime, made it into the finals and finished 12th.

French skiers Marieele and Christine Goitschel and Austrian lugers Doris and Angelika Neuner are on the short list of sisters to also go 1-2 in an Olympic event.

“A dream. A long time, we’ve dreamed this,” said their father, Yves. “It doesn’t get any better than this. It doesn’t.”

Hannah Kearney of the United States, the defending champion and top-ranked woman in the world, went last and had a big bobble after her first jump. She settled for bronze.

 
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