Some of the biggest stories in the first days of the Olympics have come from first-ever Olympic events and first-ever Olympians like Sage Kotsenburg, a homeschooler who won gold in slopestyle snowboarding.
The course for slopestyle events resembles a giant skate park on the side of a mountain. Competitors use obstacles and ramps to turn tricks and flips to impress the judges.
Two Canadians and an American took home medals in Tuesday’s first-ever women’s slopestyle skiing event. The youngest competitor on the U.S. winter team, 15-year-old Maggie Voisin, couldn’t compete because of a training injury Friday. A favorite in the event, Voisin gave way to Canadians Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre and American Devin Logan, who took home the gold, bronze, and silver, respectively.
But the bigger story came Saturday when 20-year-old Kotsenburg took home the first gold medal of the Olympics in men’s slopestyle snowboarding. He was born in Idaho but grew up in Park City, Utah. With three children who competitively snowboard, the Kotsenburgs homeschooled with Alpha Omega Academy (AOA), a popular online Christian K-12 school and curriculum.
“I see AOA as a springboard to my education,” Kotsenburg said in a statement released by AOA, which is having a heyday over its 2011 alumnus’ accomplishment. “AOA allowed me the opportunity to enjoy life experiences that a traditional classroom could never give me.” His older brother Blaze graduated in 2009, and his sister Kirra is a senior.
And traditional he is not. His tweets, posts, and quotes describe how Park City “homies” and “dudes” are “stoked” about all the “rad” and “sick” (which means “good”) things going on. He’d only won two competitions in nine years.
Due to safety concerns on the untested Sochi course, snowboard legend Shaun White dropped out of slopestyle to focus all his energy on winning his third gold medal in the half-pipe. (He finished fourth Tuesday.) Kotsenburg, on the other hand, was just happy to be there. He came out of nowhere to qualify for the Olympics in January. “It has been a wild and wonderful ride that our children have taken us on through snowboarding,” Carol Ann Kotsenburg, mother and teacher, told AOA. “We are truly blessed.”
But as wild as that ride has been, Kotsenburg is still the laid-back kid “who doesn’t clean his room.” The night before winning gold, Kotsenburg was hanging out with some teammates, munching on “chocolate, onion rings, chips and stuff” before he fell asleep while watching a movie. “We were chilling really hard,” he said.
And then came the competition. He qualified, tweeting, “Whoa how random is this I made finals at the Olympics!!!” He had a chance at a medal, so now, a mere 10 minutes before his finals run, he called home, where his big brother, family, and friends were gathered to watch.
“He said, ‘WHAAAAT? What's going on? Everyone be quiet, I can't hear you,’” Kotsenburg said of his conversation with older brother Blaze. “I started telling him, dude, talking about the run. He’s like, ‘Yeah, you got this.’ He’s the reason I got into snowboarding, so calling him before the run was the coolest thing ever.”
In the finals, he scored 93.50 in a first run that saw 12 competitors put up an average 54.22 points. Soaring off the final jump, he pulled a “1620 Japan grab,” grabbing the back of his board and flexing his legs behind his back while spinning four and a half times. Norway’s Staale Sandbech scored 91.75 on his second run for silver, while Canada’s Mark Morris earned bronze for his second run of 88.75.
Kotsenburg’s fellow medalists mobbed him at the base of the course after the win was certain, delaying his efforts to drape himself in a U.S. flag. “WOW!! I just won the Olympics!!” he tweeted. The days since have been a whirlwind. He’s actually already en route back to the States. He tweeted that when he gets home, one of the first things he wants to do is “eat bacon.” How random is that?