Sage Kotsenburg on gold medal slopestyle maneuver: 'I just winged it'
Sage Kotsenburg figured there was a first time for everything, so in the biggest competition of his life, he busted out a snowboarding maneuver he had never tried before.
In the inaugural Olympic slopestyle event, the U.S. snowboarder landed a 1620 Japan Air for the first time, propelling himself to America's first gold medal in Sochi on Saturday. His first run, which also included his self-created "Holy Crail" maneuver, earned him a winning score of 93.5.
"I had never done that trick before,'' Kotsenburg said live on TODAY Monday. "A couple people had done it, but I had never even thought about trying it. I just winged it, and I ended up landing it, so it was pretty cool. There’s no other place to do it."
He called his older brother, Blaze, before the winning run and said he was considering the 1620 Japan even though he had never tried it.
"I never really think about my runs,'' he said. "I had no clue what I was going to do even the day of semis and finals. I like changing it up a lot. I like just kind of making things different. I called my brother and I was like, 'Yeah man, I might go 1620,' and he's like, 'Yeah? You never tried that. Are you sure might not want to go 14?' Then he's like, 'Just go have fun, I'm sure you'll stomp it.'''
Kotsenburg, 20, also made history by becoming the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic medal on Russian soil, getting the Americans off to a positive start in the Sochi Games.
"It’s pretty unreal to think about that stuff,'' he said. "I was just stoked to be on the first-ever snowboard slopestyle team, and then to top it off with a medal, it being gold, first-ever slopestyle medal, fourth-ever American to have the first gold in the Games and then the first-ever one in Russia is just insane. It’s too much to take in almost."
In the women's snowboard slopestyle event, Jamie Anderson made history of her own by taking home the first gold medal in the inaugural competition, giving the Americans a sweep.
Anderson had 11 family members in Sochi right there to cheer her on. "It’s so special to have them here,'' she said on TODAY Monday. "I couldn’t be more stoked."
Her popularity also has skyrocketed since making headlines by taking the gold.
"It's been chaos,'' she said. "My website emails have been going off. So many people want posters, and this and that. I'm just going to forward them on to my sister and manager and say, 'Can you please take care of this for me?'''
Anderson and Kotsenburg showed off their newly-earned, bulky gold medals on TODAY. "I'm getting huge neck muscles,'' Kotsenburg said.
Each athlete overcame pre-competition jitters in their own way. Anderson listened to "I Know I Can" by rapper Nas during her winning run, while Kotsenburg got pumped up to "Nightcrawler" by Judas Priest before taking the gold.
"There’s definitely a lot of nerves and anticipation leading up to this event for all of us,'' Anderson said. "I had to take a moment, calm down and get ready for the day."
"I unfortunately had to skip Opening Ceremonies because it’s a late night, Opening Ceremonies, and we had a really early day, so I just ate a bunch of candy and some chips and just got ready, got into the Olympic vibe,'' Kotsenburg said. "I fell asleep watching 'Fight Club,' too."
Slopestyle requires snowboarders to pull off a variety tricks while maneuvering down the course and also trying to catch the highest air off jumps along the way. The U.S. athletes are hoping their performances bring more attention to a sport that gained popularity in the X Games before becoming an Olympic event for the first time.
"I would say to embrace it,'' Anderson said. "It's so fun. I feel like it's bringing such a new, fresh energy to the Olympic Games. It's so fun to watch, how could you not [like it]?"