Lusetich: Kotsenburg’s win is good for the sport

'It feels awesome,' Sage Kotsenburg said after claiming the first gold at the Sochi Games.

Andy Wong/AP

SOCHI, Russia — Sage Kotsenburg really wanted to march with his American teammates in Friday night’s opening ceremony.

"It sucked not being out there," he said.

But the 20-year-old knew the responsible thing to do with the semifinals of the slopestyle snowboarding event scheduled for early Saturday morning was to have an early night.

So he contented himself with watching on television in the athletes village cafeteria and tweeting a photograph of onion rings arranged to look like the Olympic Rings.

"As much as we’re trying to enjoy (the Olympics), we’re here to snowboard."

In the end, he wasn’™t just here to snowboard, but to give the performance of his life.

The laid-back rider from Coeur d’€™Alene, Idaho, shocked the conventional wisdom and won the first gold medal of these Games.

"It feels awesome," he said

"I don’t know what to call it. I have no idea what’s actually going on. This is the craziest thing that ever happened."

Certainly, no one gave the United States a chance when the sport’s superstar, Shaun White, pulled out of the first-ever slopestyle event, citing a wrist injury, earlier in the week.

"It looked like it would be a Canadian sweep," said FOX Sports 1 snowboard analyst, Olympian Andy Finch.

Canadian Mark McMorris was the favorite, despite nursing a rib injury, while his compatriot, X Games champion Max Parrot, dominated the qualifying rounds.

Kotsenberg, meanwhile, won silver at the X Games and –€“ other than a win at an Olympic qualifying event in January –€“ modestly said he "hadn’t won anything since I was, like, 11."

"A mega drought," he joked.

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A drought that wasn’t likely to end in a competition in which judges seem to be awed by the degree of difficulty of tricks.

Kotsenburg is a stylish rider who tends to do his own thing, invent his own tricks, and –€“ above all –€“ has fun.

"I guarantee you this," Finch said, "no one had more fun than Sage in that final."

What he doesn’t do is fall into the trap of trying to master the difficult tricks his rivals employ, knowing they tend to get more points from judges.

"At the end of the day, who cares about a score — it’s snowboarding!" Kotsenburg wrote in a tweet this week.

In that sense, Finch said he’€™s not just the first slopestyle gold medalist ever but represents a line in the snow for the sport.

"This is just a huge day for the sport," he says.

"Snowboarding has been crying out for an end to this movement toward losing the fun factor.

"It’s supposed to be fun but it’€™s been getting out of control with the technical stuff.

"We don’t want it to become a gymnastic sport and with Sage getting this gold, the message has been sent that the creative will be rewarded."