In the highly anticipated men’s big air final, Sebastien Toutant didn’t leave much room for Olympic drama, he had enough of it the last few months.
The Canadian snowboarder grabbed gold on Saturday in the Olympic debut of the high-flying event, landing his first two attempts with big scores, then watched as one rider after another fell or failed to beat his two-run total. Following back injuries that sidelined him for months from even practicing his craft, the Canadian was just happy to be free of complications at PyeongChang 2018.
“The past couple of months have been really challenging,” Toutant said after being crowned Olympic champion. From October until the X Games in January, he was laid up and unable to take part in his sport.
“I had a back problem, and I couldn’t ride, it was hurting too much. Everyone was practicing on the hill, it was frustrating.”
The short window between X Games and the start of the Olympics gave Toutant just enough time to drill down most of what he wanted to showcase on Saturday. He also had to prepare for slopestyle first, where he finished 11th at his second Olympic Games, while watching teammates Max Parrot and Mark McMorris make the Olympic podium in Korea for silver and bronze, respectively.
“I just love snowboarding so much and I’ve been through so much lately, said Toutant. “To be here, come so close and do well in slopestyle and to actually take the win today in big air, at the first ever big air at the Olympics, it’s awesome.”
It’s the first time Toutant has ever won gold in this event at any competition. Twice he landed on X Games podiums in big air, the second time at Aspen 2012 it was McMorris who took gold. The double Olympic slopestyle medallist, recently recovered from serious injuries himself, couldn’t put together what he needed on Saturday. He was overjoyed for Toutant instead.
“So proud of Seb, it’s so cool,” McMorris said reflecting on his compatriot’s tribulations. “He’s had such a tough time over the last few years, so talented but not getting the results he could get, so super pumped for him.”
While McMorris had the rough go on this day finishing 10th, Toutant was nearly robotic in his first two attempts. Fourth in the start order, the 25-year-old unleashed the day’s first big score of 84.75 from the judges. He was slightly bettered by Torgeir Bergrem two runs later, though the Norwegian couldn’t find a second strong score to claim hardware. Incidentally, each time Toutant won an X Games medal, Bergrem too was on the podium, one step higher than the Canadian each time. There would be no history repeating on Saturday.
On his second effort, Toutant delivered the top score on the contest with 89.50 points, bringing him to a best score total of 174.25, laying down a sizeable challenge for the field. It’s difficult for riders earlier in the order to have to wait and watch if someone will beat their score, but what mattered to Toutant is that he set himself up for success.
“Today I knew I had the tricks and I knew I could’ve done well, I’m just so happy it’s gone my way. The format is three jumps, best two count. I put down my first two runs, I mean, that’s the best scenario you can ask for.”
Kyle Mack of the United States (168.75) won silver in a similar fashion, making his first two count, while Billy Morgan of Great Britain (168.00) brought provided some theatrics by lifting himself up to the bronze position on his final run.
Parrot, after scoring 85.00 on his opener, had a chance to break up the podium party if he landed the last attempt of the competition with a similar result, but like many of the riders before him, the slopestyle silver medallist slid down the hill upon descending.
When Parrot bowed out in ninth, the spotlight shone solely on one Canadian. Olympic snowboard history will forever remember Toutant as its first-ever men’s big air champion.
“I’m always trying my best to get on the podium. I had those two tricks in mind I wanted to do for big air. Landing those, I’m really happy. Didn’t matter which position I was going to get but to end up with gold is awesome.”