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Saturday February 8, 2014 MYT 9:47:01 PM
Saturday February 8, 2014 MYT 9:47:34 PM
by philip o'connor
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - American Sage Kotsenburg was a surprise first gold medallist of the Sochi Games in the slopestyle on Saturday when his smooth and creative routine left his rivals bemused.
Kotsenburg eschewed the triple cork most competitors believed was necessary to win the event, leaving the snowboarders who did perform the move scratching their heads.
Asked what the judges rewarded on the day, Sebastien Tourant told reporters curtly: "I don't know, you gotta ask them."
The Canadian had no qualms about finishing outside the medals in ninth place but said that other riders should have fared better.
"I would say a lot of judges normally reward triple corks, now they reward different grabs and flat spin more than triples," he said.
"It's kinda difficult to get what the judges wanted us to do. I think definitely Mark (McMorris) and Staale (Sandbech) did some very good runs that should have scored higher."
McMorris and Sandbech won silver and bronze respectively, but even champion Kotsenburg admitted that either could - and perhaps should - have won.
"On any given day, if you took the contest a couple of days ago or a week ahead, I think Mark or Staale could have even won today," he said.
"It just ended up working out in my favour and they just wanted to see some different grabs and stuff today.
"(But) it could have gone anyone's way today, though."
Idaho native Kotsenburg plotted his own stylish path to Olympic gold.
He and McMorris also had the benefit of riding the course earlier in the day in the semi-finals, something Kotsenburg predicted would help him later.
"We got more practice than all the finalists this morning," he said. "When you look at it that way we're all warmed up and they've got fresh legs but they haven't hit the course yet."
Promising that he still had "some weird stuff" up his sleeve for the final, Kotsenburg went out and did his own thing, performing with a mix of improvisation, creativity and style to win the day.
"I don't make a plan up, I had no idea I was going to do a 1620 until like three minutes before I dropped, and the ‘Holy Crail' is a grab I invented a few months ago."
An unheralded name when he arrived in Sochi, Kotsenburg's choice of tricks and his execution impressed the judges as he led the final almost from beginning to end to earn a place in the Olympic history books.
Asked after training in the week how he would celebrate a podium finish, Kotsenburg suggested he might take a free run down the course with his medal around his neck.
Reminded of his plans, he laughed: "I might have to go to the top if it's open!."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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