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Red Gerard is the new face of U.S. slopestyle

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Sage Kotsenburg went to the Sochi Olympics with one slopestyle win in the last nine years and a simple goal to “make snowboarding look cool.”

The Park City native captured the very first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Games and soaked up celebrity. Before the Olympic flame was extinguished, Kotsenburg sat down with David Letterman and ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien.

Now that Kotsenburg is retired at 24, who could be the U.S. breakout star of the first weekend in PyeongChang?

Red Gerard may fill the role.

Gerard, like Kotsenburg, is a slopestyle snowboarder. Slopestyle is again one of the first medal events.

It’s on the Sunday morning after the Friday Opening Ceremony, which with the 14-hour time difference puts it on Saturday primetime on the U.S. East Coast.

Gerard, born in 2000, is younger than any previous U.S. Olympic male snowboarder. He is about 5 and a half feet after a recent growth spurt of a few inches. Not even 150 pounds.

He is also the towering American slopestyle rider at the moment.

He won the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in February. Another podium finish in one of the final three qualifiers this season will all but send him to PyeongChang.

Gerard was also fifth and seventh at the last two U.S. Opens and 14th at his X Games debut last season. No American finished in the top six at X Games for the first time in at least 15 years.

So another U.S. gold in PyeongChang would take a Kotsenburg-level upset of Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson and Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Ståle Sandbech.

Gerard, whose Mammoth win came without McMorris, Parrot or Kleveland in the field, is younger than all of them and still finding himself in top-level contests.

“I don’t know how to describe my style,” Gerard, the sixth of seven kids, said last month. “It’s probably whack or something.”

Gerard said he’s been snowboarding since age 2. He signed with Burton Snowboards by age 11, soon after his family moved from Cleveland to Summit County, Colo.

His slopestyle skills were honed on the Gerard Farm. Or, if you prefer, Red’s Backyard.

That’s what they sometimes call a makeshift snow park in the family backyard in Silverthorne, visible from the Noodles and Co. across Interstate 70. Check it outRed’s Backyard has 5,000 Instagram followers.

About three years ago, one of Gerard’s four brothers, Brendan, noticed the yard had the perfect slant for a snow park. They put in rails, which are the first features at the top of a standard slopestyle course.

A dirt bike with a rope towed the riders — not just the Gerard boys but now dozens of neighborhood kids — from one end to the other. There are even lights.

“I’d come home and ride the rope tow until night,” Gerard said. “I never thought I’d end up learning tricks in the backyard.”

Gerard’s mom had the local kids sign release forms.

“There’s been some injuries, a lot of concussions,” Gerard said. “I have ate some serious crap back there, for sure. It’s a dangerous little park.”

The setup is ideal. Gerard’s older sister, Tieghan, is a food blogger with 400,000 Instagram followers. She lives in a converted horse barn just below Red’s Backyard.

“Sometimes I’ll go down there and grab a whole bunch of food,” for everyone riding in the park, Gerard said. “And they’ll be savaging it down.”

At times, Gerard’s parents had to pull him out of the yard to do homework. Though Gerard is filming and competing around the world now, spending less and less time riding his home rails, the park stays at his mom’s request.

“The other day, I was talking to her about it,” Gerard said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can keep the backyard running.’ She was like, ‘Oh no, we’re going to keep it running.'”

In slopestyle judging, the harder-than-they-look rail moves can count just as much as the high-flying tricks off jumps at the bottom of the course. The Red’s Backyard rails may prove the training ground for an Olympic medalist.

“If you have good rails, you can take a lot off your jumps where you don’t have to do as gnarly as tricks,” Gerard said. “Hopefully, if I win a medal, I hope it has something to do with my rails. … Sometimes I don’t have enough speed for all the jumps. Weight plays into that.”

On Feb. 8, 2014, Gerard was coming home by car from a contest in Pennsylvania when he learned that Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.

“I was like, this can not be right,” said a flabbergasted Gerard, who has since worn his friend Kotsenburg’s gold medal. “He won, and he was doing some crazy grabs. That’s what really got my mind flowing on style stuff and making snowboarding different, to be honest.”

And Gerard is certainly different than the typical Olympic hopeful.

His biggest sense of accomplishment comes not from winning, but from filming snowboarding movies.

He prefers practice to competing. Halfpipe over slopestyle. Just about anything over media interviews.

No specific diet. Mountain Dew (another sponsor). In-N-Out Burger when he’s in LA. They know his name at the local Chipotle.

“But actually my favorite food is sushi, so that’s kinda healthy,” he said.

Gerard is serious about his concern for the future of snowboarding. Kleveland landed the first quad cork 1800 in big air competition at X Games last season (four off-axis flips with five full rotations).

“How many flips can you really do, how big can the jump really be — I mean, it’s already life-threatening — but without it seriously being insanely dangerous?” Gerard said. “What I’m hoping that happens is that we step it back a notch and deal with at least just triple corks from now on and try to put really good style into it.”

If Gerard’s rail prowess lands him on the medal stand on Feb. 11, he would welcome any portion of the fame that Kotsenburg received. But that’s not all he wants.

“Honestly, what I would like to do, is get a big RV and travel around all snowboarding spots around North America with a filmer and my friends,” he said.

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Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks
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Emma Coburn and Sam Kendricks followed Rio Olympic bronze medals with their first world titles in August. And now, they both won USATF Athlete of the Year honors.

Coburn, 27, took the female award named after Jackie Joyner-Kersee after becoming the first American woman to bag 3000m steeplechase gold at the Olympics or worlds.

Coburn led an emotional U.S. one-two with Courtney Frerichs in London on Aug. 11 (video here). She broke the American record (by five seconds) and the world championships record by winning in 9:02.58.

Kendricks, 25, captured the Jesse Owens Award after an undefeated season that included the first Olympic or world pole vault title by an American man in 10 years.

The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve won all 17 of his competitions in 2017, clearing six meters for the first time. No American had eclipsed that barrier since 2008.

Coburn and Kendricks won the USATF honors over the likes of fellow world champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie (100m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Phyllis Francis (400m), Kori Carter (400m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (long jump). Plus Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp, who each won World Marathon Majors this fall.

Rio gold medalists Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) won the awards last year.

Coburn is the first steeplechaser to take home a USATF Athlete of the Year award. They’ve been handed out since 1981.

Kendricks joined 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila as the only pole vaulters to earn the honor.

More from USATF on the awards here.

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”