Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

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Without White, Americans Tame the Treacherous Slopestyle Course

By Emily Feldman
|  Thursday, Feb 13, 2014  |  Updated 1:44 PM EDT
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Best of the Sochi Olympics: Day 6

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Sage Kotsenburg of the United States competes during the Snowboard Men's Slopestyle Semifinals during day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

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Sochi's bone-breaking slopestyle course saw its last competition of the Games Thursday — a spectacular sweep by a trio of American skiers.

In spite of all the complaints about the jumps and rails along the 2,038-foot-long run — and glimpses at their violent potential — Americans dominated the Extreme Park course in slopestyle's Olympic debut.

Of 12 Sochi medals handed out (or to be handed out) in slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, half went to Americans, who managed not only to land jumps off the course's three-story snow ramps, but do so with enough style to win the judges' highest approval. 

Sage Kotsenburg, a wild-haired 20-year-old from Park City, Utah, kicked off the medal haul with his unscripted, first-place run on Sochi's opening day. In the innovative spirit of the sport, Kotsenburg whipped out a brand new move, nailing a quadruple-rotation jump he dubbed "the holy Crail," for the gold.

The following day, Julie Anderson, a 23-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., gave the U.S. a gold medal sweep in the slopestyle snowboarding event, with a confident big-air performance. 

Twenty-year-old Devin Logan continued the U.S. medal streak with a silver in the Games' first slopestyle contest on two skis. The South Dover, Vt. native rose to the occasion after American favorite, Maggie Voisin, pulled out over an injury.

The icing on the cake came Thursday when teammates Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper put to bed any notion that designers had built a course too giant to tame.

Fears over the safety of the course — a long hill, dotted with rails and obstacles at the top and series of jumping slopes at the bottom — began to mount before the Games even began.

After early test runs, snowboarders voiced concerns over the fearsome size of the jumps, rising three steep stories off the ground.

According to the AP, Anderson initially said the course was "intense" and  that she was "having a questionable time getting used to it."  Finnish snowboarder Roope Tonteri told  the AP it wasn't safe."I just don't want to get injured. It's not a really fun course to ride."

Indeed, a number of competitors suffered frightening injuries before either slopestyle contest was even underway. Torstein Horgmo, Norway's slopestyle snowboarding favorite, broke his collarbone during a test run, while Finnish rider Marika Enne left the course on a stretcher after bashing her head into a rail.

Workers did modify the course, shaving down some of the jumps, but the changes weren't enough to put everyone at ease. 

Snowboarding giant Shaun White, who jammed his wrist during practice, ultimately decided to pull out of the competition, citing safety as a top concern.

"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said in a much-discussed statement

As the competitions got underway, the injuries stacked up too. There was Candian slopestyle skier Yuki Tsubota who fractured her cheek bone during finals. Russian slopestyle skier Anna Mirtova wiped out too, bad enough to require knee surgery, while Canadian Kaya Turski dislocated her shoulder in a crash.

Still, many competitors — including Horgmo, the snowboarder who broke his collar bone — pointed out that slopestyle was, after all, an extreme sport and that injuries were part of the game. 

As the contests got underway, the most talented riders rose to the occasion, nailing new moves, landing tricky jumps and taming the challenging course. 

“It’s what we should be jumping at this level," Kotsenburg said, days before he would become the champion of the course. "It’s the Olympics."

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