PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The grand plan when Red Gerard and his brothers set down rails and attached a tow rope to a dirt bike to fashion a snowboard park in their backyard wasn't all that grand.
"Just having fun snowboarding," Gerard explained.
Look where all that fun landed him.
The 17-year-old snowboarder from just outside of Breckenridge, Colorado, won the Olympic gold medal in slopestyle Sunday, courtesy of a nimble, creative ride through a wind-swept course that left almost everyone else scrambling to keep their footing.
Gerard captured America's first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games -- first medal of any color, in fact.
"I said it from Day 1," said Brendan Gerard, one of Red's five older siblings. "The kid was 2 years old when we started him snowboarding. I can recall him falling down the hill at 2 and him dragging ass behind me. Gave it two weeks, and he started moving faster. By 6, it was inevitable he was going to be something huge."
Thanks to a blustery wind that swirled upward from the bottom of the mountain, "huge" wasn't the word of the day on a course already designed to reward technical tricks on the rails and interesting choices below as opposed to sheer massiveness on the jumps.
That couldn't have suited Gerard much better.
Listed at 5-foot-5 and 116 pounds, he does not overpower courses and slam down landings the way that, say, silver and bronze medalists Max Parrot and Mark McMorris of Canada often do.
Instead, Gerard relies on the quick reflexes he learned in the tight quarters of his backyard, which is visible from Interstate 70 down below, and where neighborhood kids feel free to pop in unannounced to put down a few runs.
The top of the Olympic course is also tight.
Unlike most of the other 10 finalists, Gerard didn't pick the straightest, easiest path through the rails.
Instead, he mixed and matched with a variety of lobs and turns over rails and jibs with some cool grabs to match. He was the only contender to fly over a goal post feature in the top section.
"Everyone in the contest was worried about the wind and stuff," said Gerard's friend and Olympic roommate, Kyle Mack, who loaned Gerard his jacket as the winner-to-be rushed out the door shortly after a 6 a.m. wake-up call.
"I kept telling him, 'Don't think about it. Do the run you know you have to do.' He went out and put it down flawlessly," Mack said.
On the second-to-last jump, Gerard took a risk by trying a 1080-degree jump off the quarterpipe side of the kicker instead of going straight through the jump and flying higher.
The risk is that the landing won't create enough speed to take into the last ramp, but that worked out fine, too. Gerard closed with a backside triple-cork 1440, and his only thought while in the air was: "Just don't blow it."
He didn't, and the scene at the bottom was wacky in a way that only the Olympics can dream up.
“Oh, God, this is scary,” Gerard said as he waited to see his final score.
When the score of 87.17 appeared, NBC cameras caught a moment of raw emotion.
“What the (expletive)?” he said. “Holy (expletive)!”
NBC has since removed the video from several online sources.
It was a simple enough plan, and one very fitting for a kid who came to his first Olympics wide-eyed and unaware of the way it could change his life.
Gerard is now on the West Coast for post-victory TV appearances and sponsor shoots.
You can watch Red TONIGHT on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' immediately following The Channel 2 Action News Nightbeat at 11!
Then, he'll head back to South Korea for the Olympic debut of Big Air, where he could become only the second snowboarder to win two medals at the same Olympics.
Not a bad prospect for a guy who first stepped into a snowboard for fun, not glory.
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