He’s pretty sure people are having the same reaction to him now. Heck, even he’s having a little trouble believing he’s the Olympic champion.
“I’m just mind blown,” Gerard said Sunday, after giving the United States the first medal of the Winter Olympics, just as Kotsenburg did in Sochi. “I can’t believe everything worked out, and honestly I don’t think I’ve really had time for it to set in yet.
“I’m just so happy I got to land a run, and just to end up on the podium is awesome.”
Chipotle also tweeted shortly after 17-year-old Chloe Kim won gold in women’s halfpipe, extending the offer to her as well.
Maybe there’s a lesson in that wide-eyed wonder for other Olympians.
Riding his own way, Red Gerard scores gold
In so many sports, the Olympics is the pinnacle, a siren that will hold an athlete spellbound for his or her entire career. There might be world championships or World Cup events, but it’s the Olympics that make icons out of ordinary athletes.
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That isn’t the case with snowboarding, disciplines like slopestyle in particular. Snowboarders don’t grow up wanting to stand on a podium and hear their anthem play. Two decades after snowboarding was added to the Olympic program, riders are still more enticed by the idea of doing even cooler tricks and shooting videos in the backcountry with their friends.
Asked if he could see himself going to multiple Olympics, Gerard gave the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
Red Gerard, teenage snowboard hero and US gold medalist
“I’m a day-by-day kind of guy,” he said, sounding very much like the 17-year-old he is. “I want to go film some more (snowboard videos) pretty badly. I’ll take two years to do that and then regather myself and see what I’m into.”
It’s not that the Olympics don’t mean anything. It’s that they don’t mean everything.
Over the years, plenty of athletes have crumbled under the weight of the Olympic rings. They’ve worked so long and sacrificed so much, and the magnitude of it all is simply overwhelming when it finally arrives.
But Gerard was oblivious to that. He’s said often over the last week that he hadn’t really understood how big the Olympics were until he arrived. In his mind, the Games that mattered have always been the X Games.
When a guy with glasses and a German accent congratulated him after the event, it wasn’t even clear if Gerard realized it was Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.
“He’s in that generation that really hasn’t watched TV. It was always smartphone stuff,” said Gerard’s father, Conrad. “So he didn’t really watch the Olympics.”
Gerard wasn’t quite the darkhorse Kotsenburg was when he won four years ago, having won two of the qualifiers for the Olympic team. But slopestyle is still dominated by Canadians and Norwegians, and there were plenty of both in the final.
Rather than obsessing over gold, Gerard’s only concern was putting down a great run and having fun while he did it. If that happened to put him on the podium, all the better.
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“I looked up to Sage a lot because he comes into things just trying to have a lot of fun and that’s how I come into things, too. Just having fun,” Gerard said. “All I really want to do is land runs when I do contests. After that, it’s up to the judges.”
His approach seems so simplistic, almost to the point of being naïve. But Gerard is a product of both his sport and his generation. The priorities of snowboarders are different. So, too, the interests of teenagers.
By not making the Olympics too big, Gerard rode off with the biggest prize there is.
Red Gerard celebrates after winning a gold medal Sunday in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Red Gerard celebrates after winning a gold medal on Sunday, Feb. 11, in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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Red Gerard celebrates after winning a gold medal Sunday in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Red Gerard looks out at the crowd after winning a gold medal Sunday in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Silverthorne’s Red Gerard exchanges a high five with Canada’s Mark McMorris on Sunday as the two stood on the podium of an awards ceremony immediate…
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Red Gerard takes a moment to himself just before his name is called to stand atop the podium after winning the men’s snowboard slopestyle competitio…
And as if the 17-year-old’s victory wasn’t good enough, NBC managed to miss the fact that the teenager shouted “holy f***” upon winning the gold medal, even though the American broadcasters were showing it on a delay.
The podium for the mens snowboard slopestyle competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics was, from left, Canada’s Max Parrot in second, United States ri…
Red Gerard watches at Mark McMorris takes his final run Sunday at the 2018 Winter Olympics. McMorris was the last rider who had a chance to unseat Ger…
Red said: ‘I’m super-psyched! I cannot believe it. I’m shaking right now, maybe from the cold or the excitement, I don’t know. But I’m ecstatic. I can’t believe it. It was awesome.
Red Gerard covers his face as his competitors make their last runs during the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Gerard …
Red Gerard high fives fans at Bokwang Phoenix Park in South Korea after landing his final run of the snowboard slopestyle finals to take the lead in t…
Red Gerard trades a look with Canada’s Max Parrot a moment after Parrot’s final score was announced, placing him just behind Gerard on the podium….
Red Gerard runs to celebrate after landing his final run in the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s snowboard slopestyle event at Bokwang Phoenix Park, South…
Red Gerard rushes to release from his snowboard after landing is final run at the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s snowboard slopestyle competition.
Red Gerard dishes out a high five to Canada’s Max Parrot after winning the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s snowboard slopestyle competition.
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Red Gerard won a gold medal Sunday in men’s snowboard slopestyle at the 2018 Winter Olympics at Bokwang Phoenix Park, South Korea.
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Mark McMorris waits for his score after the third run of the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s slopestyle snowboard competition.
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Red Gerard takes a celebratory slide through the snow after landing his final run in the snowboard slopestyle competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics….
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Red Gerard looks down to land his final trick on his last run of the snowboard slopestyle competition Sunday at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Red Gerard flips through a triple cork on the last hit of his gold-medal winning run at the men’s snowboard slopestyle competition at the 2018 Winte…
Red Gerard flies through his final trick en route to a gold medal during the 2018 WInter Olympics snowboard slopestyle competition. Gerard became the …
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Red Gerard, right, celebrates after winning a gold medal in snowboard slopestyle at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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BOKWANG PHOENIX PARK, South Korea — Snowboarding is not about the Olympics for Red Gerard.
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It’s about barbecues with friends while they grind the rails in his backyard, about days in the backcountry filming big drops and powdery turns.
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He likes the competitions too, he said, in part because he loves hanging out at the pre-event practices.
Still, the world’s eyes turned to him Sunday at Bokwang Phoenix Park in South Korea. He’d just landed his run, throwing up his arms as he skidded to a big spraying stop at the bottom of the Olympic snowboard slopestyle course at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It was a good one, but he had to wait, wait to see how it would hold up with the best riders in the world coming down after him.
He sat down on the snow and looked up at the screen broadcasting the action from higher on the course.
He walked into the finish area and hugged coaches and high fived fellow competitors, then he was back in front of the screen, waiting and watching, sitting and standing as time drug on.
Finally, the moment came. The last competitor, Canada’s Max Parrot, laid down a solid run, extending the drama to the very last second, but his score came in at 86.00, second place behind Gerard’s 87.16.
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The diminutive backyard phenom from Silverthorne landed his third and final run in the slopestyle finals, he withstood three of the world’s best and when it was over, he was the gold medalist, the Olympic champion.
“It’s a little hard to believe, for sure,” he said. “I can’t believe everything worked out. I’m so happy. I got to land a run and just to end up on the podium, it’s awesome. I can’t believe it.”
He came into the Olympics claiming it was just another competition for him and indeed he wasn’t overtaken by tears during a short post-event awards ceremony.
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International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was on hand for the competition and pulled Gerard aside for a few quick words of congratulations.
Gerard’s recollection 30 minutes later? He initially couldn’t remember which conversation reporters were asking about and started talking about congrats he’d received from his favorite actor.
Waiting at a press conference an hour after the event, he marveled with coaches not about his run or its potential life-changing effects, but that his Instagram following had rocketed up from 50,000 to 80,000 in the minutes since his victory. It had nearly doubled several hours later.
Gerard’s unique style defined everything about his trip to the Olympics and his turn in the gold-medal spotlight. He spent the night before the men’s slopestyle finals not carefully monitoring his diet and soaking up every bit of relaxation, but dining on fried chicken tenders across from Pyeongchang Olympic Park.
He didn’t have the biggest tricks of the dozen riders in Sunday’s finals, but he rode unlike anyone else. He sought unique lines through the top portion of the course, which was filled with rails and small kickers.
He consistently popped up on a section of quarter pipe, a curved wall of snow.
Other riders stayed away because it was too risky. Gerard went because they didn’t.
“Going off that quarterpipe, you come up with less speed for that third jump,” said Parrot, the day’s silver medalist.
“If there is a big front wind on that third jump, you’re not making it for sure,” Parrot said, considering Gerard’s decision to hit the quarterpipe. “Red took a big risk doing that, and it paid off. He had a pretty creative run.”
Gerard hit it twice and struggled, then hit it again on his third run, as well, because why aim to place fifth?
“I definitely thought about (skipping it) but I realized my trick just going straight over isn’t as good, so I might have gotten fourth or fifth, so I might as well try to do good while I’m here,” he said.
The course proved to be very well suited to his attitude, and he employed skills he learned through the years riding a small collection of rails built into his Silverthorne backyard.
It started as a fun, small project and it’s still fun, he said, though it’s grown to the point a rope tow was installed.
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It taught him how to navigate a slopestyle course with his own flourish.
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The jumps on the lower portion of the run weren’t as large as they had been at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so the biggest tricks his competitors had hoped to ride to victory were taken off the table.
A cold South Korean morning was marked by sharp gusts of wind, conditions that derailed dreams as rider after rider were pushed off their marks in the air and hit the snow.
It was soon clear the competition wouldn’t be about who had the breakthrough tricks, but about who had the cleanest runs.
“I saw Mark’s run, the most difficult of the day, but he didn’t land it as clean as he could have and he got scored pretty low for that,” Parrot said. “Then Red went, did a perfect run and he scored high, so I just thought, ‘the judges want to see something clean from A to Z.”
Then among the group with the cleanest runs, Gerard was the one with the most creative, a trait baked into everything he does.
He doesn’t plan on changing any of that any time soon. The next Olympics is four years away. Can fans expect to see Gerard try to defend his gold medal?
“I try not to think too far in the future,” he said. “I’m kind of a day-by-day kind of guy.”
It’s gold in snowboard slopestyle for Red (Gerard), White and Blue
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JReich9