The first Americans to medal, Sage Kotsenburg and Hannah Kearney, held nothing back in the mountains–was it the right move for both?
The US won its first two Olympic medals on Saturday. They were made from different types of metal–one gold and one bronze. The gold getter was shocked and thrilled, while the winner of the bronze couldn’t hide her disappointment. Staying true to their bold characters and not holding back in extremely demanding circumstances, both Olympians attacked their events in similar fashion, but with dissimilar results. Can we forge a lesson from the experience of these two athletes? Is there a definitive answer to the age-old Shakespearean question in sports, and in life: To go for it or not to go for it? Sage Kotsenburg, a 20-year-old snowboarder from Park City, Utah (and surprise finalist), won the inaugural Olympic Slopestyle competition essentially by throwing down a rarely performed trick, a backside 1620 Japan, on the last jump of his final run. He had never before attempted the move. “I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped. It’s kind of what I’m all about.” Kotsenburg said. “Never ever tried it before in my life.” According to his growing legend, besides the Olympic Trials earlier this month, this is the first competition Kotsenburg has won since he was eleven years old.
In contrast stands Hannah Kearney, a 27-year-old freeskier. Kearney was a favorite in Sochi to repeat her gold medal moguls performance of the 2010 Vancouver Games, but her final-run decision not to hold back on her first jump eventually landed her in third place and not first. Kearney’s leap appeared to be almost twice as high as the jump of Canadian rival Justine Dufour-LaPointe, the event’s winner. But the force of Kearney’s landing forced her left ski to catch a mogul, slide out of position, and ultimately ruin her chance for victory. Had she scaled back just a little, gone against her nature, would she have accomplished her goal? She, and we, will never know. “The only positive I can see is that I didn’t lose because I was too conservative or being complacent ” said Kearney, who comes from Norwich, VT. “I pushed and there was one huge turn that got me.” Hannah Kearney suggests that going for it all is at least some salve for the pain, even though going for it is what may have caused the pain in the first place. I think we can guess what Sage’s answer to our question is: “Shred the gnar, Braj.” // Rick Boomer