GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Winning the Olympics was never his dream. Until snowboarder Red Gerard was standing atop the Olympic slopestyle course waiting to take his third and final run on Sunday afternoon, after having fallen on his first two attempts and ranked 11th of 12 riders, he hadn’t felt the size of the Olympics. He hadn’t experienced the nerves everyone told him could derail his runs. He honestly didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Until he did.
“I started feeling nervous,” Gerard said. “I came all the way out here and I just wanted to land a run.”
After a few words of encouragement from his Burton team manager, Frankie Chapin, Gerard dropped into a course that might as well have been built for him. Its limitless rail options played to his strong, inventive rail riding, and his second jump feature included a quarterpipe option he was the only rider in the contest to utilize.
“The whole way through the course I was taking it feature by feature, all the way to the end,” Gerard said. “In the air on the last jump, I was thinking, ‘Don’t blow it. Let’s not ruin it on the last jump.”
Despite inconsistent winds that plagued riders throughout the contest, Gerard stomped his final trick, a backside triple cork 1440, and he was awarded the highest score of the day, an 87.16.
“Oh. My. God.” Gerard mouthed when he saw his score. Then he waited as the top qualifiers took their final runs and the magnitude of the moment hit him. Winning the Olympics wasn’t his dream, until it was.
“I don’t really think I knew what the Olympics is,” said Gerard, who claims he didn’t grow up watching TV or fantasizing about taking Olympic runs. “I grew up watching the X Games and Dew Tour. I never realized how big this is.”
That realization started to set in sometime around the time he participated in Friday night’s opening ceremony. And it cemented itself on Sunday as he waited for four of the sport’s most dominant riders to take their final runs.
“I was in a great position, having qualified first,” said Canadian rider Max Parrot, who was the last competitor to drop. “I was able to watch Mark [McMorris, a fellow Canadian snowboarder] land the most difficult run of the day, but it wasn’t clean, and he was scored really low because of it.
“Then I watched Red’s run. It was super clean, and he scored really high. So I downgraded my run to do one triple [cork] instead of two, and I landed a really clean run. Red took a big risk hitting the quarterpipe, and his run was really creative. I think the judges liked that. I’m happy with second place.”
With his win, 17-year-old Gerard — who is 17 years, 227 days, to be exact — became the youngest snowboard gold medalist and the third-youngest Winter Olympics gold medalist in history. He also is the first Winter Games gold medalist born in the 2000s.
“I’m mind blown,” Gerard said. “I don’t think I’ve had time for it to set in yet.”
“We’re Clevelanders. This is surreal. My kid just won an Olympic gold medal.”
Red Gerard’s dad, Conrad
Canadian rider Sebastien Toutant offered his take on the winner.
“Red loves to snowboard, and it’s good to have someone like him win the game today,” Toutant said. “It’s like [American slopestyle gold medalist] Sage [Kotsenburg] in Sochi. They’re both hyped on snowboarding and have similar funny personalities. It’s good for snowboarding.”
When Parrot’s score of 86 flashed on the video screen at the bottom of the course, the Gerard family cheering section, which included his parents, six siblings and a smattering of significant others and cousins, erupted in a chorus of “Red-mond! “Red-mond! U-S-A!”
“I didn’t expect this, but it’s amazing,” said Redmond Gerard’s father, Conrad, who was cheering on his son while wearing a Cleveland Browns beanie. He and Gerard’s mom, Jen, grew up in Cleveland, and although they moved the family to the Rocky Mountains a decade ago, he said their roots are still in Ohio.
“Sixteen-and-0 proud,” Conrad Gerard said, pointing to his cap in reference to the Browns’ 0-16 record last season. “We had massive amounts of people texting and calling and telling us they were having parties to watch Red today. I wanted him to land a run for himself, for his confidence and well-being, but for all of them too.
“Red didn’t get to experience as much of Cleveland as my older kids, but that’s who we are. We’re Clevelanders. This is surreal. My kid just won an Olympic gold medal.”
With that, Conrad Gerard realized that his second-youngest son had finally given Cleveland a reason to hold a celebratory parade in February.