While he recovers in a Vancouver hospital following a backcountry snowboarding accident on Saturday, Mark McMorris can rest easy with the knowledge that he and teammate Max Parrot did what they needed this season to put PyeongChang 2018 directly in their sights.
Both men achieved results to make them eligible for early nomination to Team Canada for the next Olympic Winter Games. While their nominations must still be confirmed next season by hitting a minimum performance criterion, meeting selection standards now certainly alleviates a lot of pressure for the future.
“It gives you that peace of mind that you’re going. You don’t need to really stress for the whole six months or nine months or whatever it is leading up to (the Games),” McMorris told Olympic.ca.
Two days after that interview, McMorris was partaking in his favourite off-season activity when he sustained numerous injuries and had to be airlifted to hospital where he underwent two successful surgeries. But he is also no stranger to coming back from injury, having won slopestyle bronze at Sochi 2014 just 12 days after breaking a rib.
“In the past Olympics in Sochi, I qualified two weeks before the Olympics. It was definitely a stress,” Parrot said in his own interview. “This year when they announced what the criteria would be for the selection, it automatically became my goal this year to qualify this winter.”
There is a limit of four men per country in the Olympic slopestyle and big air events. For many countries, that’s not an issue. But there is such depth in Canada that the intra-team competition is intense.
“Because we’re pushing each other even more, that’s why we did so well in every contest and why we’re known as the best team in the world,” said Parrot.
Canada Snowboard’s Olympic selection protocol allowed for two men to earn provisional nominations by the end of the 2016-17 season, based on results in five targeted competitions for each of slopestyle and big air. Riders had to enter at least three of those and finish on the podium twice in a discipline to be considered. They were then ranked based on their top three placements.
McMorris, who has shown commitment to rehabilitation and recovery in the past, heard about the criteria just as he was getting back on his board after breaking his femur on a bad landing in February 2016.
“I was like, okay this is going to be tricky for me to make the top two, especially coming off that injury and the Canadian team is the strongest it’s ever been,” he said of the squad that regularly boasts more finalists than any other country. “It’s like we go to a contest and it’s sort of competing against the Canadians for the top three and the Olympic spots.”
The first competition considered towards early Olympic selection was, rather fittingly, the World Cup in November that served as the PyeongChang 2018 test event for big air. Parrot had been a little anxious about the size of the scaffolding ramp and how that might impact the tricks they could attempt. But in the end, he was happy with the venue and the result as he took the silver behind McMorris’ gold.
That was followed in December by a big air World Cup in Copper Mountain, Colorado that was won by Parrot.
Next came a slopestyle World Cup stop in Laax, Switzerland in mid-January where Parrot claimed gold and McMorris took silver as part of a Canadian podium sweep with Tyler Nicholson.
Then they were off to the X Games in Aspen. McMorris captured a pair of bronze medals while Parrot won the big air gold with his highlight performance of the season, landing the first ever switch quadruple underflip in competition.
“That was a big goal for me to be able to do a quad in a contest this season,” he said.
McMorris had his highlight performance of the season at the US Open in Vail. He did a slopestyle run he’d never done before with a trick – a switch backside triple cork 1620 – that he’d never done before.
“Just to ride the best I possibly could at the right time felt pretty damn good,” he recalled of the run that ended up securing his Olympic nomination.
The final targeted competition was the X Games in Norway where McMorris and Parrot again won gold and silver in big air.
“Overall I did 15 contests. I podiumed at 10 contests and this is definitely by far my best season ever so it makes me proud,” said Parrot, who is quite happy to see big air debut at the Olympic Games.
Parrot is about to head to Hawaii for a couple weeks of vacation before returning to training in May, still unsure whether he’s going to attempt some of the new tricks that are always in his mind or if he’ll just work on perfecting his already difficult repertoire.
Both men have similar mindsets about the path to PyeongChang: pick and choose which contests they want to enter and really focus on them so they’re motivated and healthy heading into the Games. Then it’s all about trying, in McMorris’ words, “to win some medals”.
The final allocation of Canada’s Olympic quota spots, along with the snowboarders who will fill them, will be announced in January 2018.