Sage Kotsenburg Won Slopestyle With a “1620 Japan Air Mute Grab.” What Does That Mean?

A Blog About the Olympic Games
Feb. 8 2014 5:48 PM

Sage Kotsenburg Won Slopestyle With a “1620 Japan Air Mute Grab.” What Does That Mean?

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Sage Kotsenburg competes in the men's snowboard slopestyle second heat qualification during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 6, 2014.

Photo by Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Sochi Games on Saturday morning after impressing the men’s slopestyle judges with a trick he calls the “Holy Crail.” (Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has the story of how a 17-year-old girl came up with the name.) The maneuver, in which he spins in the air four and a half times while holding his snowboard behind his back, is officially known as a “1620 Japan Air Mute Grab.” Guh? Let’s break it down.

1620: This is pretty straightforward. Kotsenburg made four full 360-degree spins, and one 180-degree spin. Three hundred sixty times four plus 180 equals 1620.

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Japan Air: “Japan Air” is the name of a trick in which the airborne athlete takes his front hand, reaches down over his front leg to grab the edge of his snowboard nearest to his toes—the “toe edge”—and then pulls the board behind him. According to the book Skateboarding: Legendary Tricks, the move was pioneered in the mid-1980s by skateboarders Tony Hawk and Lester Kasai, “after seeing a photo of a kid doing a tuck knee mute air in Japan.” Here’s a video demonstration of how the trick is done:

Mute Grab: A “mute grab” is when you use your front hand to grab the toe edge of your snowboard between your feet. The move was popularized in the 1980s by a hearing-impaired skateboarder named Chris Weddle, hence the “mute” monicker. It probably would’ve been nicer to call it the “Weddle Grab,” but, hey, it was the 1980s. Anyway, watch this adorable Southern child attempt to demonstrate a mute grab on his own skateboard:

So, putting it all together: Kotsenburg sailed into the air, grabbed the toe edge of his board with his front hand between his two feet, pulled the board behind him, and spun 1620 degrees before landing. 1620 Japan Air Mute Grab. Makes sense to me!

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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