PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Red Gerard and his brothers built their own snowboarding features park in the backyard of their Colorado home as kids, one that provided them a gateway into a sport that is an equal mix of technical precision and daring creativity.
Halfway across the world from his makeshift beginnings, the teenager made the Olympic stage look like just another afternoon back in Silverthorne, Colo.
The 17-year-old won gold in men’s slopestyle snowboarding on Sunday, drilling his final run to put up a score of 87.16, good enough to edge Canadians Max Parrot and Mark McMorris and give the United States its first gold medal at the PyeongChang Games.
Gerard stumbled his way through his opening two runs at tricky, slick and sun-splashed Phoenix Snow Park. It hardly mattered. He found redemption his third time through the course, using some of the techniques he first learned in his backyard to navigate the series of rails at the top of the course before soaring through the moonscape at the bottom.
He exulted in the moment as he took a few minutes to chat with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach while seeing if McMorris or Parrot could catch him.
They couldn't. But it was close. McMorris, a bronze medalist when slopestyle made its Olympic debut in Sochi four years ago, put up an 85.20 during his second run but under-rotated during the last jump of his final landing. Norwegians Staale Sandbech and Markus Kleveland slipped up during their last shots, too, leaving only Parrot in Gerard’s way.
Parrot topped qualifying on Saturday, just as he did in Sochi as a 19-year-old before sliding to fifth in the finals. Parrot washed out in his first two runs on Sunday, failing to post a score anywhere close to podium-worthy. He collected himself during the short break between the second and third runs and put together a solid set. He made a brief fist-pump after landing and exchanging high-fives with Gerard in a sport that’s built less on competition and more on camaraderie.
Gerard, Parrot and McMorris stood near one another waiting for Parrot’s score to post. When the videoboard flashed 86.00, Gerard celebrated becoming the youngest American snowboarder to win Olympic gold. He’s also the second straight American to win the event, which made its Olympic debut in 2014. Sage Kotsenburg claimed the top spot in Sochi.
Gerard will have a chance to win another medal when he competes against Parrot, McMorris and others as Big Air makes its first Olympics appearance later in the games.