SOCHI, Russia – Blaze Kotsenburg was partying with friends at 3 a.m. in Salt Lake City on Saturday, all of them gathered around a television set moments before his little brother Sage was scheduled to fly his snowboard down a mountain in Russia.
His cellphone rang. Blaze fished it out of his pocket. Who could be calling at this hour?
“Blaze, it’s Sage,” said the scratchy voice on the other end.
“Hey everybody, shut up, it’s my brother calling from the Olympics!” Blaze shouted to his friends.
Sage Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old kid in the biggest event of his life, had phoned his brother and mentor 10 minutes before his run because he wanted some last-minute advice. He wanted to know about the worthiness of a trick he was considering for the first time in his career in the finals of this new Olympic slopestyle event.
“What do you think, man, should I go for it?” Sage asked.
Blaze looked around the room at their snowboarding friends and thought back to the times they would slide down mountains strictly for fun. He thought about how Sage wasn’t even supposed to be an Olympic contender, and now maybe he had one run for a chance at an Olympic medal?
He quieted everyone down again. The answer was easy.
“Dude, you’re at the Olympics, what do you have to lose?” Blaze told his bro. “Why not?”
Why not, indeed? Why not a shaggy-haired kid who looks and sounds like Jeff Spicoli turning this increasingly corporate sport back into Fast Times at Goofy-Footed High?
“OK, I’m down with it,” Sage said.
“Sick,” Blaze said.
About 10 minutes later, down and sick Sage Kotsenburg twirled through the cold air with a Backside Double Cork 1620 Japan, soaring not only into the cheers of a Utah party house, but also into history as winner of the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.
But you didn’t need to read that here. You could have seen his entire day chronicled in two of his wonderfully innocent tweets.
“Whoa how random is this I made the finals at the Olympics!!!”
“Wow! I just won the Olympics!! Bringing back the first Gold here to the USA! Love seeing the support from everyone YOU RULE!!”
Whoa and wow indeed. It took only one event for the best of the Olympic spirit, in all its wide-eyed awe, to resurface after months of worry and strife. Sage Kotsenburg is why we still watch the Olympics, why they still matter, why they still charm.
“I saw my brother do it, and I couldn’t stop bawling,” Blaze said by phone Saturday.
Hearing Sage talk at a news conference several hours after his victory, one couldn’t stop smiling. He was so overwhelmed, he waved to the media three times from a stage just a few feet away. He was so real, he sounded like a 20-year-old who just finished rolling his skateboard around the parking lot obstacles at the nearest Vons.
“Honestly, it feels like a dream right now … the craziest thing ever … so stoked to be here … the coolest thing … pretty sick,” he said.
When asked about the comparisons to the lovable slacker played by Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Kotsenburg unleashed another barrage of the baggy-jeans, wool-capped nouns and verbs.
“That is sick, I’m down with that, pretty awesome that someone did that, I’m stoked to see that,” he said. “Good old Spicoli.”
Good ol’ Kotsenburg. In an event that was supposed to feature Shaun White before the increasingly careful superstar backed out over injury and fear of failure, he showed up as the anti-Shaun White.
“When (White) dropped out, it was kind of cool, everyone’s like, oh, there’s these other guys who compete too,” Kotsenburg said.
Kotsenburg, who was born in Coeur d’Alene but grew up in Park City, Utah, began this weekend as truly just another guy, barely ranking in the top 15 in the world. He showed up here alone because he was worried about the safety of his parents and two siblings, who watched the event streamed back to Utah. So it turns out the first athlete to hold Sochi Olympics gold was also a casualty of its fears.
Said Blaze: “Yeah, we had our tickets and everything, but at the last minute, Sage was worried about our security.”
Said Sage: “I was like, ‘You know, can you just hang out at home?’ Having them here would have stressed me out too much.”
It was his first Olympics, yet because he was worried about tiring himself out, he did not march in the Opening Ceremony. Instead, he watched it on TV from the Olympic village while eating what he calls “mad snacks.” For a better idea of that term, one can check out the tweet in which he forms the Olympic rings with onion rings. When the snacks ran out, he watched a bit of “Fight Club” before falling asleep.
Said Sage: “You know, it’s about, like, fighting.”
Said Blaze: “Sage is all about being different, he’s about snowboarding 30 years ago, staying true to the sport.”
This truth, said Sage, is a simple one.
“It’s riding a piece of wood with plastic on it down a hill, hitting rails and jumps,” he said. “It’s like the randomest idea ever.”
When Sage finally called Blaze after his postrace interviews and podium visit Saturday, their conversation was randomly short, yet pointedly perfect.
“I said, ‘Dude, you just won,’ ” Blaze said. “And my brother just laughed.”