Snowboarder Red Gerard wins first U.S. gold medal of 2018 Winter Olympics
For the second Olympics in a row, the first U.S. medal of the Winter Olympics has come in men's snowboard slopestyle.
And once again, it was a gold medal upset.
Red Gerard, a 17-year-old from Colorado, was sitting in last place heading into the third and final run. Like many riders, he had struggled to land a clean run on his first two attempts. But when the pressure was on, he delivered.
During his run, Gerard's creativity was on full display, as he repeatedly used features of the course that other riders were ignoring.
In the second rail section, he transferred over the hitching post with a stylish, tweaked-out frontside air before doing a 50-50 to tailslide to 270 out combo on the rail.
On the first jump, he landed a switch backside 1260 on the angled jump, spinning against his natural direction of travel in the air for added difficulty.
On the second jump, he opted to do a double cork off the quarterpipe takeoff instead of the traditional kicker that other riders were using.
Then on the final jump, Gerard stomped a clean backside triple cork 1440 to put an exclamation point on his run.
The result: Gerard was rewarded with an 87.16 from the judges, putting him in first place.
But the young snowboarder couldn't rest easy — not with all the sport's heavy hitters still left to go.
First there was Canada's Mark McMorris, who had been sitting in the lead until Gerard bumped him out of the top spot. In an earlier run, McMorris had landed back-to-back triple corks, including a backside triple cork 1620 — one of the highest scoring tricks of the contest — on the final jump.
But McMorris, who has been a dominant figure in slopestyle for years, went down.
Then came Norway's Marcus Kleveland, the back-to-back X Games champion who had landed a backside 1620 earlier in the contest. He, too, went down.
Finally it was Max Parrot's turn. Parrot, another strong Canadian rider, was the top qualifier in Saturday's preliminary round, and he came out swinging in the final. After slamming on a triple cork attempt on both of his earlier two runs, Parrot finally put down a full run, and though he was one of the day's strongest riders in the rail sections, he fell about one point shy of matching Gerard's score.
When the dust settled, the Canadian duo of Parrot and McMorris — considered by many to be the favorites for gold — were left with silver and bronze.
And the gold belonged to a 17-year-old kid who has maintained a rather nonchalant attitude toward the idea of competing at the Olympics.
"I've never really found myself thinking about [the Olympics]," Gerard said when asked about the Olympics last year. "I feel like there's just always so much stuff going around that I want to pay attention to. And [the Olympics] are just far ahead, so whatever."
It was a quote reminiscent of something that you might have heard from Sage Kotsenburg before his surprise Olympic victory four years ago.
Those aren't the only similarities between the two. The way Gerard creatively used the entire course was something that Kotsenburg was known for doing too — back before he retired from competitive snowboarding. And the Sochi slopestyle champion took note of that.
"Just got the craziest deja vu of all time watching Red stomp that run and take it to the top of the podium!" Kotsenburg wrote in a text message to NBC Sports' Nick Zaccardi. "That run Red put down was hands down the best run that happened today, using the course to its full potential."
Gerard's victory in PyeongChang wasn't entirely a surprise. He had been posting strong results in contests lately, and the Olympic slopestyle course, which was praised by riders as one of the most creative designs ever, catered to his strengths.
But with riders like Parrot, McMorris and Kleveland in the field, it looked like it could be difficult for him to crack the podium — much less win a gold medal.
That's exactly what Gerard did though.
Several of the favorites did perform well. For Parrot, his silver medal is an improvement on his fifth-place finish from Sochi. For McMorris, he has his second Olympic bronze medal — an impressive feat considering he's just 11 months removed from suffering a litany of severe injuries after a backcountry snowboarding crash that nearly killed him.
The silver medalist from Sochi, Staale Sandbech, narrowly missed the podium and finished in fourth place. Kleveland ended up sixth. They were the top two finishers on a strong Norwegian team that advanced four riders to the final.
Gerard's road to the Olympics started in his backyard. When his family moved from Cleveland to Colorado, they built a rail park in the yard where he and his brothers could snowboard. That backyard terrain park is where Gerard learned some of his more technical rail tricks, which give him an edge over many of the other slopestyle competitors.
That family came along with him on the journey to PyeongChang. He had a cheering section — estimated at about 18 strong — at the slopestyle course holding up large cardboard cutouts of his head and signs like "We're here to get Gerarded."
The whole entourage will have plenty to celebrate. Not only did Gerard win Team USA's first medal of the 2018 Winter Olympics, he also made history by becoming the youngest Olympic snowboarding champion ever and the first athlete born in the 2000s to ever win a medal at any Winter Olympics.
And with that kind of youth on his side, it may not be his last Olympic medal.
Gold: Red Gerard (USA), 87.16
Silver: Max Parrot (CAN), 86.00
Bronze: Mark McMorris (CAN), 85.20
4. Staale Sandbech (NOR), 81.01
5. Carlos Garcia Knight (NZL), 78.60
6. Marcus Kleveland (NOR), 77.76
7. Tyler Nicholson (CAN), 76.41
8. Torgeir Bergrem (NOR), 75.80
9. Niklas Mattsson (SWE), 74.71
10. Seppe Smits (BEL), 69.03
11. Sebastien Toutant (CAN), 61.08
12. Mons Roisland (NOR), DNS
NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Here's how to watch all upcoming live streams for snowboard slopestyle and halfpipe.
Women's Slopestyle Qualifying: Sat 2/10, 11:30 p.m. ET
Women's Slopestyle Final: Sun 2/11, 8:00 p.m. ET
Women's Halfpipe Qualifying: Sun 2/11, 11:30 p.m. ET
Women's Halfpipe Final: Mon 2/12, 8:00 p.m. ET
Men's Halfpipe Qualifying: Mon 2/12, 11:00 p.m. ET
Men's Halfpipe Final: Tues 2/13, 8:30 p.m. ET