The 17-Year-Old Who Wowed PyeongChang
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because have you ever tried a frontside triple cork 1440? He did — and nailed it.
By Ryan Wallerson
Red Gerard will be just 17 years old in this week’s opening ceremony at the XXIII Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, making him one of only four U.S. Olympians born after the turn on the century. But his youth isn’t what he wants people to focus on — and if his recent performances, including the 2018 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, are any indication, Gerard is gearing up to put on an unforgettable show.
All three participating members of the four-man U.S. men’s snowboard team finished in the top four spots of qualifiers for the X Games slopestyle final. Gerard, the slopestyle snowboarder who is the team’s leading contender to grab a medal in the Olympic slope event, sat at the top of the leaderboard (92.00). Canadian Darcy Sharpe finished second (88.33), while Gerard’s Olympic teammates Chris Corning (84.00) and Kyle Mack (82.66) took third and fourth, respectively.
The event final, however, was a different story. Norwegian rider Marcus Kleveland, Sharpe and Sharpe’s fellow Canadian Mark McMorris finished on top of the podium, with Gerard, Corning and Mack finishing fourth, sixth and seventh. “These are the riders we’ll be facing in the Olympics … and they threw down big,” Gerard said after the final.
Gerard grew up in Cleveland, the second youngest of seven children. His older brother Malachi introduced him to snowboarding, and the duo’s shared love of the sport exploded after they moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, when Red was 7.
“I remember him the first time he went out — he just bombed straight down the hill and fell on his butt because he couldn’t turn or stop — then a week later he’s riding better than I am,” remarked Malachi, 22, at the X Games. “He picked it up faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
By year three in Colorado, when Red was 9 years old, the brothers began riding park together. When Red’s talent began to announce itself, his big brother started bringing him around to area competitions.
He is a regular American teenager with a prodigious snowboarding ability about to face off against Olympic competitors who … are older and more rigorously aware of diet, training and legacy.
“You can ask my parents,” Red says. ”Malachi was more of a parent to me than anyone, the way he took me to all these events — as many as 10 to 15 a year these last two seasons — and really supported my riding. I owe him a lot when it comes to my snowboarding career.”
A budding career that could change overnight to best in class with a big performance on the Olympic stage. “Red has one of the best styles in the game,” says fellow snowboarding phenom Kleveland, who is just one year older than Red. Kleveland has established himself in recent years as one of the top slopestyle riders in the world, winning gold at the 2018 X Games and taking top honors at the 2016 Air + Style event.
“He has so much confidence on the board and that makes him fun to watch,” Kleveland tells OZY. “I know how much Red snowboards and loves snowboarding, and that is really the key to progression. He’s already a great rider, but I think he’ll get even better as he continues to push it.”
And push it he is, drawing on raw talent and getting by without a hardcore training regimen. His favorite foods are pizza, Chipotle and sushi, and he spends summers catching up on what he’s missed while snowboarding all winter, hanging out with friends and shooting film in the backcountry.
In short, he is a regular American teenager with a prodigious snowboarding ability about to face off against Olympic competitors who, for the most part, are older and more rigorously aware of diet, training and legacy. Still, Gerard’s pure potential was on full display at the X Games qualifiers and it’s expected to show up again in South Korea.
“Red Gerard impressed me with what he did in slopestyle, qualifying first for the finals. That’s no small feat given the riders in that group,” says Max Parrot, a Canadian snowboarder who won gold at this year’s X Games. “The judges responded well to his creativity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the Olympics.”
Perhaps most telling was a moment from Gerard’s performance at the 2016 Burton U.S. Open slopestyle final. In the middle of his second run, with the Colorado sun and wind on his face, Gerard made a deal with himself. If he landed the frontside double cork 1080 in the second of three large jumps at the bottom of the course, he would attempt a frontside triple cork 1440 (four rotations, three flips), a trick he’d never nailed before, in practice or competition.
Riding out of the 1080 on the second jump, Gerard remembers clearing his mind as he approached the final element of his run — and then executing the triple cork 1440 for the first time in his life.
“I had nothing to lose. I was having a good run and it came into my head and I embraced the idea,” Gerard tells OZY. What’s more, he says it helped him see his path forward in snowboarding, before quickly adding, “I’m not doing any quadruple corks though.”
Gerard may have finished fifth in that competition, but he considers it a watershed moment in his young career. And when he reached the bottom, there was one person he wanted to call.
Malachi was away at school and couldn’t attend the event, but he found a way to watch it online. “When he called me from the bottom, I’d already seen it and was superstoked for him,” says Malachi. “Red kind of proved then he can do anything on a snowboard, including the things he thinks he can’t.”
Ten months later, Gerard claimed his spot on the U.S. men’s Olympic snowboarding team by coming out on top at the final Olympic qualifier in January 2017 — where his run included another triple cork 1440 and he earned the highest individual scores of the event. Malachi will be with his brother this week in PyeongChang, where, who knows, Red might just make another deal with himself and go for another first.
- Ryan Wallerson, OZY Author Contact Ryan Wallerson