After winning the first American gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, not to mention the first-ever gold in the snowboarding slopestyle competition, Sage Kotsenburg has found himself at the center of a media whirlwind. Since gliding down the mountain after pulling off his signature trick, the Holy Crail, the native of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has barely had a break, flying to New York City for a gauntlet of TV appearances. But the supremely chill 20-year-old athlete is running on adrenaline, and Rolling Stone caught up with the Spicoli-like Kotsenburg to talk about his gold-winning run, Shaun White’s dashed dreams, his favorite tunes, staring into Bob Costas’ pink eyes and why Russian translators may have thought he was wasted during his gold-medal run.
Heading into the Games, there was a lot of scrutiny on slopestyle. Bob Costas, for instance, called the sport “Jackass stuff.” What was the attention like once you actually got to Sochi?
It was good, man. All said and done, I think it got a lot of praise over there. We put on a good show, with the course being really big so everybody could do their biggest spins and tricks and go all out. It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s young. It’s got a good vibe.
Did you feel like there was karmic retribution in play when Costas caught pinkeye?
The night I won, I went to Costas and it was good. We talked it out. And yeah, he’s got mad pinkeye right now.
What did he say to you?
He apologized to me and then I gave him a slopestyle pin because I was like, “Yeah, I know how much you know and love about slopestyle, so here’s a pin.” We just made a joke about it. It was good fun.
A lot of the Sochi coverage has been about how messed up the accomodations are over there. Did you have any bad experiences or see anything weird?
No, we were pretty much all good. We had dorm-style rooms up there, a nice place to sleep. We had TV, good water – I mean, I don’t know if it was good water, but we had water. I heard some people didn’t have water in their toilets so I imagine it was pretty nasty to take a dump in there.
You’ve said that it felt bizarre to even be in the final round of the competition. What were your emotions going in?
The day of finals there were also semifinals. I didn’t qualify straight through from qualifiers to finals, so I had to do semis, and we had practice at 8:30 in the morning, before the sun even came up. There wasn’t sun on the course until the last run. I knew I had a run that could make it to finals – it seemed so far away. Dude, the process was like two years; the worst process to get there, doing all these crazy competitions to get our quota spots for the U.S.A. Then finally I’m in the finals and it all came down to those two runs. I went out, had a bunch of fun snowboarding, and laid down the best run of my life. I couldn’t ask for a better day and a better way to represent snowboarding.
Tell me about landing the Holy Crail.
Well, the craziest thing was the 1620 I did because I’d never tried that before. I felt so comfortable on the course from riding it all day that I was just having a blast. I came to the last jump like, “All right, here goes nothing. 1620, here we go.” In the air, I knew the rotation was going to come around and at 1260 I could see the landing and then just did another 360 and, dude, it came around perfect.
What went through your head when you stuck the landing?
That feeling was out of control. Like, “What just happened!?” I couldn’t even remember at the moment what happened. Riding away, I put my hands in the air, still just saying “What?” probably for 10 minutes.
Everyone made a big deal about Shaun White dropping out of slopestyle. Did you talk to him at all about that?
No, me and Shaun, we don’t really talk that much. We hang out if he’s riding slopestyle but he definitely distanced himself from a lot of snowboarders. He just does his private parks and private pipes and that’s, I think, a thing that most hurt him here, because when he showed up, he had to adapt to this course. It was so big and so quick. They make the course so you have to go there and adapt to it. We’re at the Olympics. You don’t want it to be the easiest course. We were all so used to adapting and I don’t think he really was and he had to go do halfpipe. I respected his decision.
Are you protective of your medal?
No. The way I see it, it’s like a story that just keeps going. If I dropped it or someone dropped it and dinged it, I’d look at that ding and remember the story. Obviously, I wouldn’t be stoked if someone dropped it but I’d be like, “Oh, remember when I let that one random guy hold my medal and he dropped it?”
Evidently, Russian translators didn’t know how to communicate your words. Like, “stoked” means “drunk” in Russian.
Oh, no way! Oh my goodness. I heard that they were freaking out, like “What is ‘stoked?'” That’s so funny. I’m definitely a snowboarder at heart and am not changing up my lingo that much at these press conferences. It definitely confuses some people.
What music did you listen to during training? Is there anything that gets you pumped up before a run?
I wake up in the morning, I usually listen to Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, just old stuff. Then I’m really into hip-hop and rap, super down with A$AP and Young Jeezy and Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar. Right before my run I listen to Metallica or Judas Priest or Slayer, get really stoked. “Nightcrawler” by Judas Priest, “Ride the Lightning” by Metallica, “Creeping Death,” “Enter Sandman,” then “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath. Those are my go-tos.
Are you even thinking about the next Olympics?
Not really. Everybody’s been asking me that. It’d be cool to go but, dude, four years is so long. We’ll see. I’d definitely love to go and it would be an awesome experience to go to two Olympics, that’d be the coolest thing, but we’ll see in four years. I’ll just keep shredding my hardest and hopefully I’ll be there.