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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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VIDEO: Slopestyle skier shows off acrobatic moves in training

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

Stars align for historic Diamond League weekend; TV, stream info

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The Diamond League has never had a weekend like this.

Four straight days of competition between two meets for the first time in the series’ nine-year history. Track and field’s established champions — Caster SemenyaElaine ThompsonChristian Taylor — and rising stars — Noah LylesChristian ColemanJuan Miguel Echevarria — dot the fields in Monaco on Thursday and Friday and London on Saturday and Sunday.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live broadcast coverage, streamed on NBC Sports Gold along with additional events and commercial-free feeds.

Friday — Monaco
Olympic Channel — 2-4 p.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 1:35-4

Saturday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:30-11

Sunday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:45-11

Following Monaco and London, there will be just one more Diamond League meet (Birmingham, Great Britain, on Aug. 18) before the two-leg Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

The fallow season (no Olympics, no world outdoor championships) is almost over, but there is plenty to be decided at two of the Diamond League’s strongest annual meets.

Here are the entry lists for Monaco and for London. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Thursday — Monaco
12 p.m. — Women’s Shot Put
1:15 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put

Friday — Monaco
1:35 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
1:45 — Men’s 1000m
2:03 — Women’s 400m
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Men’s High Jump
2:15 — Men’s 800m
2:25 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:35 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:50 — Women’s 100m
3 — Men’s 1500m
3:15 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:25 — Women’s 800m
3:35 — Men’s 200m
3:45 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Saturday — London
8:30 a.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
8:33 — Women’s 3000m
9:04 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
9:09 — Women’s Javelin
9:30 — Women’s Long Jump
9:55 — Men’s 400m
10:05 — Men’s 5000m
10:26 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:38 — Women’s 100m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday — London
8:45 — Women’s Discus
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s High Jump
9:31 — Men’s Long Jump
9:37 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
9:48 — Women’s 800m
9:58 — Men’s 800m
10:08 — Men’s 1500m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 200m
10:39 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:49 — Women’s Mile

Here are 10 events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — Friday, 1:35 p.m. ET
A gathering of the top seven women in the world this year (indoors and outdoors). Though U.S. Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris won the world indoor title on March 3, London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney have been the best outdoors this spring and summer.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 2:35 p.m. ET
The 11 fastest women in the world this year in one of the deepest fields in Diamond League history for any event. The headliners are the top four from the 2017 World Championships — U.S. gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs and Kenyans Hyvin Kiyeng and Beatrice Chepkoech. Plus, Kenyan Celliphine Chespol, second-fastest all-time in the event. This could be an opportunity for Coburn and Frerichs to chase the 9-minute barrier, which no North American has broken (Coburn’s American record is 9:02.58). Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet has not competed since January due to a reported doping issue.

Women’s 100m — Friday, 2:50 p.m. ET
Missing the top Americans (world champion Tori Bowie and U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs), but it has most of the international stars. That includes Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who hasn’t been the same since she was shockingly fifth at 2017 Worlds and hasn’t won a meet outside of Jamaica this year. Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, fastest in the world in 2018 at 10.85, has to be the favorite.

Men’s 1500m — Friday, 3 p.m. ET
First time Olympic champ Matthew Centrowitz faces all three 2017 World medalists — Kenyans Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot and Norwegian Filip Ingebrigtsen — since this meet last year. Cheruiyot crushed Manangoi and Centrowitz in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic on May 26. The 22-year-old has one loss all year, runner-up to Manangoi at the Commonwealth Games, and has the three fastest 1500m times for 2018.

Women’s 800m — Friday, 3:25 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts her near-three-year win streak on the line against the next seven fastest women this year, including Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba and world bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson. Semenya broke the South African record at this meet the last two years. She’s already chopped .91 off her national record this year to become the fourth-fastest all-time. She is .97 shy of the 35-year-old world record.

Men’s 200m — Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET
U.S. 100m champion Noah Lyles puts his two-year 200m win streak on the line. Challengers include surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who is 0-3 against Lyles all-time, and Ameer Webb, who won the national title in Lyles’ absence on June 24. Lyles clocked 19.69 seconds in his last two 200m races, tying South African Clarence Munyai (not in the Monaco field) for the fastest time in the world since August 2015. Only six men have broken 19.60 — Usain Bolt, Yohan BlakeMichael JohnsonWalter DixJustin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — but none were as young as the 21-year-old Lyles.

Men’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 3:45 p.m. ET
All three world championships medalists and the seven fastest in the world this year. None bigger than Olympic and world champion Consenslus Kipruto, undefeated internationally in 2016 and 2017. Not the case this season. Fellow Kenyan Benjamin Kigen beat him at Pre, and then Kipruto was a shocking 12th in Rabat last Friday. Another chance for Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager to become the first sub-8-minute American. He won in Monaco in 8:01.29 last year.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Christian Coleman, after reasserting his argument as the world’s fastest man, faces another formidable field. U.S. runner-up Ronnie Baker and NCAA champion Cameron Burrell are also here, as is Brit Zharnel Hughes, at 23 arguably the most promising non-American in the world.

Men’s Long Jump — Sunday, 9:31 a.m. ET
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria is the most exciting long jumper in recent memory after nearly jumping out of the pit last month with the world’s best jump in 23 years. The 19-year-old followed that with two best wind-legal jumps in the world this year at his next two meets. He could be pushed even farther here by the last two Olympic champions — Jeff Henderson and the soon-retiring Greg Rutherford — and every 2017 World medalist — Luvo ManyongaJarrion Lawson and Rushwahl Samaai.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — Sunday, 10:39 a.m. ET
Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, world-record holder Kendra Harrison and fellow American Sharika Nelvis split the last three Diamond League races and split their three head-to-head-to-head meetings this year. A strong win here makes a pretty good argument for best in the world at the moment. McNeal has the top 2018 time of 12.38, but that’s not close to Harrison’s world record of 12.20 from two years ago.

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