KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Slopestyle snowboarding's Olympic debut saw an emphasis on style over technical trickery as Park City's Sage Kotsenburg took home the discipline's first-ever gold and the first medal of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Saturday.

Team USA's first medal of the Games was earned with complex grabs and a first-ever 1,620-degree spinning trick by Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old whose casual, fun-loving form harkens to snowboarding's roots.

“I do random stuff all the time. I don't really make a plan up. I didn't even know I was going to do a 1620 until three minutes before I dropped.”

Outside of a win last month in U.S. Snowboarding's final Olympic qualifier at Mammoth Mountain, Kotsenburg hasn't climbed to the top of a snowboarding podium since he was 11 years old.


But by Saturday, he was snowboarding royalty, sharing his sport's rootsy ways with plenty of “stoked-s” and “sick-s” to the horde of media crowding him in the finish corral of Russia's burly Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. He celebrated alongside silver medalist Staale Sandbech of Norway and bronze medalist Mark McMorris of Canada.

“I grew up with Mark and Staale. We are not like enemies at all. It's sick to be able to podium with them and everyone is stoked for each other,” he said.

Sandbech and McMorris had risen to Saturday's finals on a wave of technical precision that has recently dominated slopestyle snowboarding. The pair's heralded triple corks – three backflips thrown while spinning 90 feet down a monster jump – were championed as snowboarding's future.

The Olympic judges on Saturday knocked the triple-cork down a notch. After the first run of the 12 finalists from seven countries, judges had made it obvious that mad spinning was not going to win the event. Kotsenburg, the only American in the finals, threw only one double-cork, but his 1620 with solid grabs and the “Holy Crail” grab he invented two weeks earlier at Aspen's X Games earned him the top score of the first-of-two runs. (The two-handed trick sees him grabbing behind his back and pulling the board while using his other hand to grab the nose of his snowboard while he spins three to four rotations.)

After seeing judges score triples low, some athletes dialed back their triples to doubles.

“I would have done triple on the first jump but I thought the judges wouldn't like it and would mark that score low. That's why I just did the double cork. I think the triple cork is way harder, but I was just going on what the judges were scoring today,” said Canadian Max Parrot, a triple-corking master who won both the X Games big air and slopestyle contest last month with triple backflips. Parrot was somewhat critical of the judges, saying it's common on the World Snowboard Tour for judges to share their expectations with riders who can tailor runs to their preferences.

“We didn't hear anything from these judges. I don't even know the name of the judges,” said Parrot, who finished fourth after throwing a triple-cork 1620, basically the same trick as Kotsenburg's but with three backflips.

McMorris, who entered the Olympics as a medal favorite even after sustaining a broken rib two weeks ago at the X Games, said he felt confident about his second run in finals, thinking it would either pass Kotsenburg's 93.5 points or come in a close second. It was 88.75.

“That was the run. I was hitting triples and then they all switched it to ... double instead of triples,” said McMorris, who seemed relieved to shed the Olympic pressure. “A lot of people were talking about my score being low but that is the least of my worries. I just wanted to go big and land clean and do technical tricks and you gotta be happy with the way you ride and then it's up to the judges and you can't do anything about them.”

Kotsenburg said he doesn't adjust his riding to suit judges.

“At the end of the day, I'm not going to let a score judge how I snowboard,” he said after qualifying second in the final round of qualifying to make the finals.

That's the way it should be, said U.S. Snowboarding and U.S. Freeskiing's head coach Mike Jankowski. Those double grabs are technical. And Kotsenburg was the most creative, solid rider of the day, he said.

“He wants to put his stamp on the run,” describing his golden rider as an artist, whose colorful flourishes can separate him from a pack of spinning acrobats. “The course is the canvas. Your board is the paintbrush. He is the spice master. He's about putting his punctuation on every part of that course from the start to the finish.

“For Sage it's about the process, and not the outcome. We are out there to have fun and he's going to do it his way. He's going to make it fun and that's what he did today. And whether the judges like it or not, it's not going to change the way he rides.”