Profile Teen slopestyle champ Red Gerard's Olympic evolution turns to big air

U.S. snowboarder is beginning to understand spectacle of Games after winning gold

Teen slopestyle champ Red Gerard's Olympic evolution turns to big air
After winning Olympic gold in the men's snowboard slopestyle competition, Red Gerard admits the Games weren't something he watched growing up. © Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

By Chicco Nacion, CBC Sports

With the wind blowing against him, Red Gerard took a deep breath as he surveyed one last time the slopestyle course laid out below him at Bokwang Snow Park.

The 17-year-old American gave his team one last set of handshakes and embraces before dropping in for his final run. 

He was sitting last among the 11 finalists. He had nothing to lose, and it showed as he hit the rails and flipped off the massive jumps that make up slopestyle, nailing each trick as he went.

When the teenager's score of 87.16 flashed on the scoreboard, he squinted and did a double take as he tried processing what happened.

He was in the lead, the gold-medal position. The Olympic gold-medal position. When the score held up, he was the youngest athlete to win a gold medal in snowboarding at the Olympics.

He gets his second opportunity at gold when he competes in the big air event (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET).

It was pretty heady stuff for the teen from Silverthorne, Colo. Gerard has participated in numerous events throughout his young career but nothing quite like the Games.

Yet the moment didn't seem too big for him and Gerard seemed to be self-aware of the spectacle around him.  

"I just didn't really think I knew what the Olympics was. I kind of grew up just watching Dew Tour and X Games. I'd never really realized how big it is," Gerard told reporters at his post-competition press conference.

Some athletes go their entire career without a sniff of the podium. It took Canadian luger Alex Gough four Olympics just to get a bronze medal.

Gerard's fellow teen and compatriot Chloe Kim is going through the same process, having won gold in the women's halfpipe competition.

"This whole experience has been insane. You hear so much about the Olympics but actually being a part of it is a completely different story," Kim told reporters the night of her victory.

Whole new experience

It's hard to tell Gerard just became an Olympic champion as he seems so oblivious to the whole experience.

The morning of the final, he had to be dragged out of bed by teammate Kyle Mack because he'd stayed up late watching Netflix. He also had to borrow Mack's team jacket for the competition because he'd misplaced his own.

Just hours later, the five-foot-five Gerard was on top of the podium — the youngest American male to win individual gold in a Winter Games since 1928 — after calmly stomping his final run, beating out Canadians Max Parrot and Mark McMorris.

When asked what he'd do with his gold medal, Gerard said he'd "look at it for quite some time" and let his mother decide where she wanted to keep it.

"Probably at home in my living room where all the other trophies are. My mum loves them, so I'll let my mum handle them," Gerard said.

Becoming a household name

Gerard jokingly said he would've been just fine with fourth place to avoid the press, but the spotlight will only brighten upon him now.

The teenage star flew back to the U.S. this past week for media obligations, including an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but he will be back to Pyeongchang for Tuesday's big air competition, which a reporter reminded him about.

Gerard may not admit it, but he's becoming a household name.

"I don't really know why people are excited to see me come down [the slopes] but I like it. I try not to think about it and have fun snowboarding. I'm just hyped that I can be with the big guys," Gerard told CBC Sports before the Olympics.

Fresh face

Gerard has proven that he can do more than just hang with the top snowboarders. He represents a younger wave of talent that is bringing a fresh perspective and pushing the sport's veterans and the sport's progression as a whole.

"You see it with everything almost, even in the tech world," Gerard said. "It's weird to say, all the new trends comes from the younger generation. Maybe we're bringing more of that into tricks. Our minds are more fresh.

"When [the veterans] were younger, they had the same thing. They were looking up to the older guys and doing what the older guys were doing but just taking that above and beyond. All of us look up to the older guys. I know for a fact that I looked up to Mark McMorris and Chas Guldemond. I did what they did and [asked myself] how we can we take it a step further?"

As for what's next? Gerard plans on catching some hockey and curling while in Pyeongchang. He'll graduate from high school this summer and hopes to get into film school.

But at the end of the day, Gerard is just a teen trying to take in the whole Olympic experience.

"Some of my best friends are on the Canadian and Norwegian team," he said. "We all hang out after contests. We're all the same age. It's super cool becoming friends with people from other countries because you can get their Snapchat and talk to them."