The 70's had Mark Spitz, the 80's had Bruce Jenner and Carl Lewis, the 90's had Alberto Tomba, the 2000's had the Australian swim team and Apolo Ohno, and in 2012, the Olympic gods blessed us with Ryan Lochte. But pickings for the Sochi Games' Unofficial Sexy Male Olympian are decidedly more meh. In a post-Lochte era, Sage Kotsenburg is the best we're going to do.
This isn't to denigrate Kotsenburg athletic achievements; he's most certainly a fantastic athlete and brilliant snowboarder and he seems like he'd be a lot of fun on a camping trip. He'd provide color commentary of throwing various flammable objects into the fire pit while I built the tent. He'd tell stories of all the compound fractures he's witnessed while I lost my appetite. He'd befriend a family of bears while I ran screaming into the forest. But to claim he's "The new Ryan Lochte" is nuttier than a subtropical half pipe.
Kotsenburg's blatant non-douchebaggery hasn't stopped the media from trying so, so, so hard to make him into the Lochte he was never meant to be. Entertainment Weekly referred to him as the Olympic "stud of the day" after winning gold. Both VH1 and Bustle referred to him as "snowboarding's Ryan Lochte." And he's slowly gaining pop culture caché, garnering shout outs from the likes of Kobe Bryant and making a requisite appearance on New York-based morning TV.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 12, 2014
But despite the Lochte comparisons, the two couldn't be more different.
Sure, Lochte and Kotsenburg have some basic things in common, just as marshmallow fluff and brussels sprouts are both technically "food."
Lochte had his infamous "JEAH!" catch phrase that he stole from Young Jeezy; Kotsenburg is occasionally referred to as "SPOICE" because Sage is a spice and people who recreationally hurtle down hills on boards like to yell encouraging things to each other because snowboarding seems like a really chill, supportive sport characterized by blonde hair and high fives that quickly turn into hugs. Like Lochte, Kotsenburg has hyped — or, uh, "hoiped"— his own catch phrase, referring to American figure skater Gracie Gold as "spoice on the oice" in a Tweet and trying to make the #SPOICE hashtag happen. But an original dipthong charmingly inserted into words of encouragement is a far cry from an alpha bro braying a hip hop catch phrase.
Prior to the 2012 Olympics, Ryan Lochte was an overgrown frat boy clinging to a collegiate existence; a 27-year-old man with college-aged roommates. Kotsenburg, on the other hand, has only recently departed teenagerhood. He was born in the 1990's. Totally different generation.
Kotsenburg's social media presence is entertaining, but in a different way than Lochte's. While Lochte was fond of posting his "art" to social media and Tweeted with the linguistic flair of a cat walking across a laptop keyboard, Sage seems to have something going on between the ears. He's fondly Tweets of his affinity for bacon (NBC even shopped him a fake bacon gold medal), goofy but self-aware. And his Instagram makes him seem like a pretty cool guy who isn't afraid to look silly in the name of hat modeling.
And speaking of fashion, or lack thereof, the Winter Games simply don't lend themselves as well to eye candy as the Summer games, as Winter Games feature much less skin. NBC has hours of footage of a nearly-naked Lochte standing by a pool, jumping into a pool, emerging from a pool, flexing his muscles in a pool. We've got Kotsenburg in a grandma sweater and goggles. Human sexuality, friendo. Winter jackets just aren't as stimulating to the salivating corners of our monkey brains as rippling pectorals.
Another important Lochte-Kotsenburg distinction: Sage Kotsenburg can successfully complete a sentence. Here are Kotsenburg's thoughts on winning gold, as told to TODAY,
It's pretty unreal to think about that stuff. I was just stoked to be on the first-ever snowboard slopestyle team, and then to top it off with a medal, it being gold, first-ever slopestyle medal, fourth-ever American to have the first gold in the Games and then the first-ever one in Russia is just insane. It's too much to take in almost.
To contrast, here is actual video of Ryan Lochte talking.
What defines me? Ryan Lochte.
Like Lochte, Kotsenburg arrived at the Games in the shadow of a more decorated Olympian — Shaun White, who later withdrew from slopestyle. But years of hype preceded Lochte's 2012 explosion, and by the time he'd reached the London Games, he and fame weren't strangers. Not true for Kotsenburg, who still reacts to his newfound fame with the sort of fame-shy charming sweetness that makes a lady want to friend the shit out of a guy, not the sort of douchey fame-hungry idiot bravado that makes a lady want to tell a guy to shut up and take his pants off.
Kotsenburg does have some stand alone Sexy Olympic Spectacle qualifications. His parents almost named him "SAVAGE," for one thing, and he has an older brother named Blaze, who also snowboards. His family and friends in Park City, Utah were so totally stoked about Kotsenburg's Olympic appearance that they rented out a movie theater and watched their boy on the big screen. Kotsenburg, like most imaginary Olympic boyfriends, is aggressively laid-back; he reportedly planned his gold medal winning slopestyle run 10 minutes before he actually did it, and ended up winning because he completed a trick he'd never done before. There's also this fun tidbit: Kotsenburg's speech is so slang-heavy that he required two Russian translators to successfully convey what he was saying in a post-victory press conference. But that's only because in Russian, "stoked" translates into a word that means "drunk," and "sick" is never used positively.
If not Kotsenburg, then who should be filling Lochte's garish shoes? Bode Miller, with his Clorox blue eyes and camera-eager smile, may have been Lochte's Sexy Olympian heir apparent, but sports fans who weren't already put off by his ugly custody battle claim that the mother of his child didn't have a right to go to college in another state while she was pregnant were certainly put off by a lackluster performance on the slopes (8th place is the 7th loser, tbh). Plus, his name is "Bode," a dog name, at best.
Golden locks, a gold medal, and a catch phrase do not a Lochte make, and Sage Kotsenburg will never be the Ryan Lochte of the media's dreams. In fact, there may never be another Ryan Lochte again.
This year's death of Sexy Olympic DBags is a drought of our own making; as soon as the world collectively realized that Ryan Lochte was just as dumb and tacky as he was athletic and fuckable, lust turned to shame, which then turned to turning Lochte into a big cultural joke. He was 30 Rock's "sex idiot." He got to try his hand at fashion design. He released a workout video. He hawked Ryan Lochte brand sunglasses. He designed shoes. He got a goddamn reality show. And he really didn't have anything to say, beyond the occasional Jeah! which by early 2013 had changed from a thing a hot dummy said a lot into a grating branding attempt. Even if lightning could strike twice and Kotsenburg were the perfect storm of stupidity and fame hunger that Lochte was, it's hard to say that we'd collectively have the intestinal fortitude to handle another round of what we just endured. We collectively fucked up our chances for another Lochte-like phenomenon by chewing him up and spitting him out and then overindulging again, like a dog that eats until it throws up, and then eats the barf.
The appeal of Ryan Lochte was that his career trajectory was analogous to a bad date that suddenly got so bad that it got awesome. The appeal of Sage Kotsenburg is that, despite all of the gleaming distractions, at his core he just seems like a guy who really likes snowboarding a lot. Brussels sprouts will never be marshmallow fluff. But do we really want them to be?