Mark McMorris, Spencer O'Brien open Sochi Olympics
Slopestyle snowboarders compete in 1st event of Games
The stage is set for Canada’s top medal contenders when slopestyle snowboarding makes its Olympic debut on Thursday in Sochi. (Watch live on CBCSports.ca beginning at 1 a.m. ET)
For months, people around the world have been watching two of Canada’s top medal hopefuls compete and prepare for the Olympic Games. Mark McMorris, of Regina, and Spencer O’Brien, of Courtenay, B.C., have been the centre of attention and it’s finally time for them to take the stage.
For McMorris, 20, the pressure has been mounting since he won his first slopestyle World Cup on Jan. 30, 2010, at just 16. He’s prepared to face it before he drops into the course.
“I think I need to over-anticipate it and assume it’s going to be as big as it really is,” said McMorris, acknowledging that "at the end of the day it’s about your snowboarding.”
Since winning his first career X Games gold in 2013, McMorris has been at the forefront of slopestyle snowboarding, pushing the limits of the sport by attempting new tricks and ultimately forcing his competitors to increase the difficulty of their repertoire just to keep up.
“The progression curve is definitely steep right now,” said McMorris. “It’s kind of just what happens when the sport is growing so much.”
Slopestyle is hugely popular in the world of X Games, where athletes like McMorris have thousands of fans and followers. When the discipline makes it appearance at the Olympics, however, the audience will be much larger than what McMorris is used to.
“My grandma knows about the Olympics, my grandma's friends know about the Olympics, and that's the way I always think about it,” said McMorris.
“It's such a legendary event. I watched it growing up. I want to represent Canada. I'm a proud Canadian. Now that my sport's in it, I want to show that I can be the best on that stage too.”
Risk and reward
With any extreme sport, the risk of injury is always looming. Less than two weeks before the Olympics while competing at X Games in Aspen, Colo., on Jan. 25, McMorris crashed on a rail during the slopestyle final and broke a rib. Despite the crash, his score from prior runs helped him secure a silver medal.
Since then, McMorris has had successful training sessions on the Olympic course and feels ready to compete.
"It's still broken, it's going to be painful and I know I'm going to have to ride through pain,” he said Sunday, from Sochi. "But just to get a shot at trying to do what I want to do is the important part."
Winning “would be the icing on the cake for a snowboard career and it'd be nice to have that on a resume.”
More golden potential
In women’s slopestyle, Spencer O’Brien is Canada’s top medal contender. The reigning world champion has battled her fair share of injuries throughout her career, including having surgery on her wrist last spring. In January, the savvy veteran won bronze at X Games proving she remains target to win a medal in Sochi.
The added pressure to perform at the Olympics is something O’Brien says she isn’t too worried about.
“I've had a lot of time on the competitive circuit,” she said.
“I feel like I have a lot of experience. Obviously not at the Olympic Games but at other major competitions around the world and I'm hoping that I can draw on those experiences and use the pressure and those expectations more as support rather than stress.
For O’Brien the chance to compete in Sochi is a “childhood dream come true.”
She knew as a slopestyle snowboarder she may never have the chance to drop in on an Olympic course but with the addition of the event, she couldn’t be more ready for the opportunity.
“It's really exciting. I think the energy that the Olympics bring to whatever country it's at is just incredible.”