Sage Kotsenburg leans on Olympic medalists’ advice going into new season

Sage Kotsenburg

Sage Kotsenburg is in a situation not unfamiliar to Olympic champions. Kotsenburg became the biggest star in slopestyle snowboarding by winning a surprise gold in Russia, but as he said in February, it was only the second contest he could remember winning since age 11.

The 21-year-old got back on his snowboard in Austria last week, riding for the first time since July. His first competition since the Olympics will be an Air & Style event in Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Stadium the first week of December.

What if Kotsenburg goes back to the pre-Olympic Sage, the rider who qualified for the Olympics behind Shaun White and finished 13th and 15th at the 2013 and 2014 Winter X Games?

Even second place, Kotsenburg’s best-ever finish at a Winter X Games, will not meet many’s expectations.

“I think some people, for sure, think that way,” Kotsenburg said at a New York hair salon recently. “I don’t think that way. Snowboarding is a way tighter community than most.”

Kotsenburg gave examples. An insane run is an insane run regardless of placement. If he landed a trick for the first time — as with the “Holy Crail” at the Olympics, 4 1/2 rotations while grabbing the board behind his back — but had an error elsewhere, it could still be a success.

Winning isn’t everything is a disposition common in snowboarding, one Kotsenburg gained a greater understanding of while listening to one of the greatest riders of all time, Kelly Clark.

Clark was favored going into Sochi to win halfpipe gold. She came away with bronze. Clark, who has won more than 60 competitions, told Kotsenburg that third-place finish marked one of the greatest contests of her career.

“She was having a bad practice [in Russia], couldn’t land anything and she came together in her Olympic [final] run and landed, it’s pretty cool to see,” Kotsenburg said. “That’s a lot of drive.

“Second place can mean so much more than first.”

No rider knows the feeling of second place at the Olympics better than Danny Kass, who won silver behind Ross Powers in 2002 and Shaun White in 2006.

Kotsenburg and Kass spoke at length this summer about Kotsenburg’s potential bid to defend his gold medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

More pressure the second time, Kass said, but there should also be more fun.

“If you don’t do [well] again, I can imagine it’s going to be maybe a letdown for you,” Kotsenburg said Kass told him, “but you can’t let that take over what you’ve done in the past. You’ve got the gold medal. Go back to win another one, but enjoy it while it happens.”

Kotsenburg was one of the stars of the U.S. Olympic team White House visit on April 3 and then mellowed in the summer, cruising around his Park City, Utah, home and spending plenty of time surfing in California.

“I miss being in the competitive state of mind, the adrenaline,” Kotsenburg said. “I’m excited to get back into it.”

Kelly Clark shrugs off critics after Olympic bronze

French Open: Iga Swiatek rolls toward possible Coco Gauff rematch

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek reached the French Open third round without dropping a set, eyeing a third Roland Garros title in four years. Not that she needed the help, but Swiatek’s immediate draw is wide open after the rest of the seeds in her section lost.

Swiatek dispatched 102nd-ranked American Claire Liu 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday, the same score as her first-round win. She gets 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China in the round of 32.

The other three seeds in Swiatek’s section all lost in the first round, so the earliest that the world No. 1 could play another seed is the quarterfinals. And that would be No. 6 Coco Gauff, who was runner-up to Swiatek last year.

Gauff plays her second-round match later Thursday against 61st-ranked Austrian Julia Grabher. Gauff also doesn’t have any seeds in her way before a possible Swiatek showdown.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Swiatek, who turned 22 on Wednesday, came into this year’s French Open without the invincibility of a year ago, when she was 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury, but said it wasn’t serious. That diagnosis appears to have been spot-on through two matches this week, though her serve was broken twice in the first set of each match.

While the men’s draw has been upended by 14-time champion Rafael Nadal‘s pre-event withdrawal and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev‘s loss in the first round, the top women have taken care of business.

Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, American Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan also reached the third round without dropping a set.

Though all of them have beaten Swiatek in 2023, the Pole remains the favorite to lift the trophy a week from Saturday. She can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

She can also become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

Swiatek doesn’t dwell on it.

“I never even played Serena or Monica Seles,” she said. “I’m kind of living my own life and having my own journey.”

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Penny Oleksiak to miss world swimming championships

Penny Oleksiak

Seven-time Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak of Canada will miss July’s world swimming championships because she does not expect to be recovered enough from knee and shoulder injuries.

“The bar that we set was, can she be as good as she’s ever been at these world championships?” coach Ryan Mallette said in a press release. “We just don’t feel like we’re going to be ready to be 100 percent yet this summer. Our focus is to get her back to 100 percent as soon as possible to get ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

Oleksiak, who owns the Canadian record of seven Olympic medals (across all sports), missed Canada’s trials meet for worlds two months ago due to the injuries. She was still named to the team at the time in hope that she would be ready in time for worlds.

The 22-year-old returned to competition last month at a Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, after which she chose to focus on continued rehab rather than compete at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

“Swimming at Mare Nostrum was a checkpoint for worlds, and I gave it my best shot,” Oleksiak said in the release. “We reviewed my swims there, and it showed me the level I want to get back to. Now I need to focus on my rehab to get back to where I want to be and put myself in position to be at my best next season.”

Oleksiak had knee surgery last year to repair a meniscus. After that, she developed a left shoulder injury.

In 2016, Oleksiak tied for Olympic 100m freestyle gold with American Simone Manuel. She also earned 100m butterfly silver in Rio and 200m free bronze in Tokyo, along with four relay medals between those two Games.

At last year’s worlds, she earned four relay medals and placed fourth in the 100m free.

She anchored the Canadian 4x100m free relay to silver behind Australia at the most recent Olympics and worlds.

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