Sage Kotsenburg

Sage Kotsenburg
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Sage Kotsenburg will not defend Olympic slopestyle title

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Sage Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, will not defend his title in PyeongChang and is finished with contest riding.

Kotsenburg, 23, said he chose to devote the rest of his career to filming snowboarding movies rather than competing. It’s a common transition in the sport, but an unusual one for a reigning Olympic gold medalist.

“It had been on my mind since literally the day I won in Sochi,” said Kotsenburg, who last competed in early 2016. “I had my heart set on stopping competing after the Olympics, and then winning puts you in such a different mindset. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do anymore. I was on a high, so pumped on competing. I would get to the contests [after Sochi], and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have the edge to try this new trick anymore. All the time, I’m looking at [social media] posts from other people riding in Switzerland and Whistler [Canada] filming backcountry. I thought, I want to be there right now.

“I finally said to myself, I’ve got to do what makes me happy. Competing doesn’t make me happy right now.”

Kotsenburg said relief flooded over him after telling sponsors — including Oakley, Monster, GoPro and Stance socks — he would not ride in competition anymore. He wanted to know if they would stick with him during his filming career, but he understood if they felt otherwise.

“Each one of them said we’re happy to have you on board and keep it going,” he said. “After I told them, it was so much pressure off my chest. I knew I could just go snowboarding again.”

Growing up in Park City, Kotsenburg was fixated more on snowboarding movies than following contests. Though he’ll never forget watching the U.S. sweep the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic men’s halfpipe and then meeting Ross PowersDanny Kass and J.J. Thomas as an 8-year-old.

Kotsenburg was truly a surprise Olympic champion in 2014, taking gold after going into his first Winter Games with a goal to “make snowboarding look cool.” The Park City native later said President Obama told him, “Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games.”

“Looking back on it in 30 or 40 years, I’ll remember all the hard work and stress and craziness that went into it,” Kotsenburg said. “It was so worth it in the end. It’s something that’s made me who I am today. I think about it every day.”

Kotsenburg was at best inconsistent at the Winter X Games before and after his Sochi breakout — fifth in 2010, 10th in 2011, second in 2012, 13th in 2013, 15th in 2014, fifth in 2015 and 10th in 2016. Kotsenburg’s win at the last U.S. Olympic qualifier in January 2014 marked his first trip to the top of a slopestyle podium in about nine years.

In Sochi, Kotsenburg took gold by landing a cab double cork 1260 with a Kotsenburg-invented Holy Crail grab and a back 1620 Japan Air, trying the latter trick for the first time in his life (he hasn’t tried it since). The rider known as “Second-Run Sage” did it on his first run, scoring 93.5 points.

After the Olympics, Kotsenburg capitalized on his gold. He ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien, listened to Obama call him “sick and chill” and took his gold medal out of a white sock on “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer.

“Being backstage on Letterman, I was tripping,” he said. “Craziest one was definitely going to the White House and meeting Obama was insane. He said he watched the Olympics, and I had the chillest and most relaxed interview he had ever seen.”

Kotsenburg said he still needs to get a proper box to store his medal. He joked he might rather buy a manikin and hang it around its neck along with some cool outerwear.

Before what would have been the last contest of his career, Kotsenburg essentially suffered a concussion at Fenway Park in training at a big air event in February 2016. Kotsenburg said the head injury was very minor and that it did not factor into his retirement decision.

Kotsenburg spent all last winter riding in Alaska, Wyoming, Lake Tahoe, Utah and Whistler for a Snowboarder Magazine film called “Pepper.”

He plans to ride more this winter for his own film project and possibly attend the Olympics in a non-competitive capacity. 

The top slopestyle snowboarders going into PyeongChang are Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson, Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Stale Sandbech and American Red Gerard.

Gerard, 16, has known Kotsenburg for several years and once wore the Sochi gold medal.

“I hope [Gerard] comes home with a medal, even gold,” Kotsenburg said. “He’s got such awesome style and really respects the background of snowboarding. He’s been filming, too, and really respects that type of snowboarding. Which I respect a lot.”

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Sage Kotsenburg still ‘on the fence’ about 2018 Olympics

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The Olympics are in 14 months, and Sage Kotsenburg remains undecided about defending his slopestyle title.

“I’m definitely on the fence,” Kotsenburg said, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article published Friday, “but right now, I’m definitely more focused on filming.”

Kotsenburg has traveled the world since his surprise Sochi gold, taking his snowboard to film movies. He even declined an invitation to the 2014 Academy Awards to ride in Switzerland, according to the report.

It appears Kotsenburg has been non-committal about the Pyeongchang Winter Games since at least June, when a Snowboarder Magazine article quoted him saying he was going “back and forth” but leaning toward trying to make the U.S. team.

Kotsenburg, 23, struggled at the Winter X Games the last two seasons after his Sochi breakout. He finished fifth and 10th in slopestyle and seventh in big air, similar to his X Games results before his surprise Olympic title.

Kotsenburg is also coming off suffering a concussion at Fenway Park training for a big air event in February.

The first of five U.S. Olympic qualifying events for snowboard slopestyle is in February at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. The other four are expected to be contested next season.

If Olympic team selection is the same as 2014, Kotsenburg could skip the first qualifier and still make the team if he performs well next year. The U.S. had four men’s slopestyle snowboarders on its team for Sochi, when the event made its Olympic debut.

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Sage Kotsenburg leans toward 2018 Olympics, but undecided

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Sage Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, said he is leaning toward trying to defend his title at the 2018 Winter Games, but it might be too early to discuss, according to Snowboarder Magazine.

“If you asked me every week since February, 2014, I’d probably go back and forth, and maybe it’s still a little early to talk about, but in some aspects I would love to go back, and in others, I kinda don’t want that to be a part of my life,” Kotsenburg said, according to the magazine. “But, I’ve been thinking recently that going back weighs a little heavier in favor than not going back. Not that there are a ton of negatives to going there. I mean, you’re going to the Olympics. It’s a pretty awesome experience, but it is kinda crazy in terms of how you get there. Right now though, I would be stoked to go back.”

Kotsenburg, 22, struggled at the Winter X Games since his Sochi breakout. He has finished fifth and 10th in slopestyle and seventh in big air, similar to his X Games results before his surprise Olympic title.

Kotsenburg is coming off suffering a concussion at Fenway Park in a big air event in February.

Big air makes its Olympic debut in 2018. Kotsenburg has said he prefers slopestyle to big air and repeated that in the Snowboarder Magazine interview.

“I would definitely rather do slopestyle,” he said. “I wanna hit some more park jumps in the next year-and-a-half, and if I’m feeling good, I’ll try to go back [to the Olympics] for slopestyle. I definitely have to learn some new tricks for big air, but it would be sick to go back for both. I’m up in the air, but it would be cool to go back for both.”

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