SOCHI, Russia – Nutrition being so crucial to world-class athletic performance, Sage Kotsenburg tweeted a photo of his pre-event meal Friday night, arranging five of them just so, alongside the title of his work of art: “#OlympicOnionRings.”
“I was eating mad snacks,” the first gold medalist of these Winter Olympics said underneath a dish mop of scraggly blond split ends. “Chocolate. Onion rings. Chips. We were chilling really hard. Then we fell asleep watching ‘Fight Club.’ Getting stoked, you know?”
It was past 6 p.m. Saturday in a large conference room here when a free radical from Park City, Utah, named Sage, who has a brother named Blaze, and who says “stoked” like, a lot – usually between “mega,” “awesome,” “gnarly,” and “whoa!” – perfectly reprised the role of America’s favorite slacker turned counterculture hero.
“Good old Spicoli,” Kotsenburg said, pumped by the Internet comparisons between himself and the surfer-stoner dude originally played by Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – and, OK, once played by Shaun White before he went corporate, became part of the establishment and pulled out of the competition
Kotsenburg is a more believable Spicoli anyway. When his parents wanted to come to Sochi to watch, he told them they stress him out too much. “I was kind of like, ‘Hey, if you guys could just kind of hang out at home.’ ”
He had won nothing since he was 11 years old before qualifying for the Olympics, a duration of losing he called “a mega drought.” After qualifying Saturday morning, he tweeted, “Whoa how random is this I made finals at the Olympics!!!”
In the time it took to type this, Kotsenburg’s Twitter followers grew by 5,000, his Q-rating spiking the moment he pulled off something called “the Holy Crail” to win the first slopestyle snowboarding competition in the Olympics.
Slopestyle is a dialed-down version of the halfpipe routine White has won twice at the Winter Games. Think of the advanced kids on the obstacle course at the ski park, flying off rails and jumps and generally mocking the children who can’t do the snowplow once they get off the lift. Now think of one of those kids exponentially showing off, spinning 41/2 revolutions, arching his back like a limbo contestant as he holds on to the front of his snowboard while landing flawlessly. Voila! The Holy Crail.
Three minutes before his final run, Kotsenburg grabbed a phone from the backpack of his wax technician – because, really, what’s a great snowboarder without his own wax technician? – and called Blaze in Park City, 2 a.m. there, to tell his brother his plans.
“ ‘Man, I think I’m going to do this trick,’ ” he said. “He was like, ‘You know what, everyone is so stoked, you’ve got this. No pressure.’ ”
I could try to dissect what he did, but I would be faking it worse than if I were trying to explain a quadruple toe loop. Better sometimes to let the artist explain his work:
“Yeah. So I, uh, dropped in, and I did a cab 270 onto the first down rail, then followed up with a half-cab on, back-five off, on the second feature, and then a half-cab up, lay backside 180 off the cannon box, then a cab double cork 1260 Holy Crail from 10 off the toe with rocket air, then a back 1620 Japan.”
“That was the best run of my life, hands down,” Kotsenburg said. “I said to my coach, ‘Hey, Bill, I might do a 1620 Japan. It’s never been done before and I had never tried it before. He was like, ‘You’re in the finals of the Olympics. You might as well go all out.’
“And I just threw it and it ended up coming around just like the 1260, but a full 360 more,” he said. “I could not believe riding out of that that I landed that in the first try.”
After he won, Kotsenburg called his father and, by association, 50 people watching live in his house back home.
“He was like, ‘WHAAAAAT!’ And then I was on speakerphone, and hearing their voices was just the coolest thing ever. . . . It could be a dangerous night in Park City.”
Somewhere, Shaun White was probably thinking, “That used to be me,” before he became a corporate leviathan no longer resembling the onion-ring-eating creativity that forced the International Olympic Committee into an uneasy alliance with a bunch of long-haired, teenagers who began doubling as IOC cash cows almost 12 years ago.
Sebastien Toutant, the Canadian who finished ninth, put it best: White is “a rock star. I feel like we don’t stay at the same places as him. We don’t talk. It’d be cool to sit down and just be able to ride like a normal friend.”
“The only thing I feel sad for are the Americans,” he added, referring to White’s decision to withdraw from the event. “They could have had another American in the final today. It’s not my country, it’s not my deal. But they could have had two Americans on the podium.”
What’s important is we got the best dude.
A dude who gets the genesis of his, uh, discipline (“You got to think out of the box every once in a while and bring it back to being creative, and that’s for sure where snowboarding started”), a dude who gets his sport’s place in society (“We’re riding a piece of wood with plastic on it down a hill hitting rails and jumps – it’s like the randomest idea ever”), a dude who, in short, would make Spicoli’s former uncool teacher fold his arms in satisfaction at the medal ceremony.
Wherever Mr. Hand is now, he must be one proud dude.