Kotsenburg's run, the third of the day, earned him 93.50 points,
which proved enough to make him a surprise champion in a low-scoring
contest where judges favored stylists over big jumpers.
"I'm really excited," said Kotsenburg. "It feels awesome. 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."
Staale Sandbech nailed his second run to snatch the silver medal for
Norway with 91.75, while Canadian Mark McMorris, who was riding with
a broken rib, was awarded 88.75 for his second run to take bronze
and round out a podium of 20-year-olds.
There had been concerns that the withdrawal of America's Shaun White
might devalue the maiden event, but the biggest name in
snowboarding, and the safety concerns that caused him to pull out of
the event, were a distant memory on Saturday.
Slopestyle was brought into the Games to try to help attract a
younger demographic, and there could not have been a better
advertisement for the sport than the first final.
The fans in the stands jigged to pumping rock music as the
competitors performed their tricks on rails and over jumps against a
backdrop of snowcapped mountains and the brightest of blue skies.
"Today was a great debut for slopestyle," said McMorris. "I think
the future for slopestyle is extremely bright."
Kotsenburg had failed to get through Thursday's first qualifying and
needed one of the four spots available in the second round of heats
earlier on Saturday.
The American's score of 90.5 was enough to put him through to the
final and confirmed that the absence from his routine of a "triple" — the trademark trick of the top X-Games riders — was not going to
hurt his chances.
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The judges clearly liked his distinctive moves on the rails and
creative grabs and twists in his jumps and, when he reprised them in
his opening run in the final, he got the reward he was hoping for.
While it did not look like a score that would keep him on top of the
leaderboard, only Sandbech came close to overhauling it with the
penultimate charge down the hill of the day.
"It's cool to see the judges reward creativity," said Sandbech,
despite the emphasis on style probably costing him gold. "It was
some of the best snowboarding I've ever seen out there."
There was a nervous wait for McMorris when the score for the final
competitor, world number one Max Parrot, was delayed but his 87.25
was only good enough for fifth place.
"With the judging you just never know," McMorris, who broke his rib
in the X-Games last month, laughed when asked whether he thought his
compatriot might push him off the podium.
"I automatically thought I was done. But I'm just really thankful to
be on the podium from where I was last week."
When Parrot's score finally flashed up on the big screen, the three
medallists, all friends, hugged each other swathed in their national
"On a global level, the Olympics, it's sick to have snowboarding in
there," said Kotsenburg.
"All of us were having a blast there, you could see us all
high-fiving at the bottom. It's not like we're bummed out when other
people come down and land a run. You're stoked for the next person
to land a run."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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