Snowboarding

Kate Pettersen - Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014 15:36 ET

Mark McMorris, Spencer O'Brien open Sochi Olympics

Slopestyle snowboarders compete in 1st event of Games

  • Mark McMorris is an Olympic slopestyle medal contender
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    Canada's Mark McMorris is a five-time X Games medallist who will compete in his first career Olympic Games in Sochi. McMorris is one of the best snowboarders in the world and is considered a favourite to win gold in slopestyle. (Richard Bord/Getty Images)

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  • Australian Torah Bright looks to make Olympic snowboard history
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    Australian Torah Bright is set to make Olympic history becoming the first snowboarder to qualify for the Olympics in three different events.  She is the reigning Olympic champion in halfpipe but has also proven to be a top contender on the slopestyle course. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Sebastien Toutant is aiming for the podium in Sochi
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    Canadian Sebastien Toutant more commonly known as "Seb Toots" is a fierce competitor in slopestyle snowboarding topping the podium at Euro X Games last season. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Silje Norendal aims for slopestyle gold in Sochi
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    Norway's Silje Norendal enters the Olympics in Sochi off a dominating win at X Games in Aspen, Colo. Norendal has proven to e a top contender on the world snowboard tour. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images) 

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  • Peetu Piiroinen of Finland is a slopestyle medal contender in Sochi
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    Peetu Piiroinen of Finland is one of the most successful riders ever on the world snowboard tour winning the overall title for the fourth time in his career in 2013. He is one of the top medal contenders in slopestyle snowboarding at the Olympics. (Richard Bord/Getty Images)

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  • Enni Rukajarvi aims for gold in Sochi slopestyle event
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    Enni Rukajårvi of Finland won the overall world tour title in 2009 at the end of her rookie season as a professional snowboarder. In 2011, she became the first rookie to win X Games slopestyle gold and has since added a handful of other wins to her collection. She is definitely one to watch in slopestyle in Sochi. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • American slopestyle snowboarder Chas Guldemond a top medal contender
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    American Chas Guldemond was crowned champion of the world snowboard tour in 2012 and remains a top contender at slopestyle contests around the world. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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  • American Jamie Anderson a top slopestyle contender in Sochi
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    American Jamie Anderson won her first slopestyle contest at the age of 15 and hasn't looked back. She is a seven-time X Games medallist including four wins. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images) 

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  • Staale Sandbech is a strong slopestyle snowboarder
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    Staale Sandbech became the youngest Norwegian to compete at the Olympics in 82 years at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games in halfpipe. He is know on the world tour as a versatile rider who can do it all and is a top contender in slopestyle. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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  • Spencer O'Brien is Canada's top ladies slopestyle snowboarding contender
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    Spencer O'Brien is Canada's top medal contender in slopestyle snowboarding. O'Brien comes into the Sochi Olympics after winning bronze at X Games in Aspen, Colo. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

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  • Seppe Smits of Belgium looking for slopestyle glory in Sochi
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    Seppe Smits of Belgium won bronze at world championships in 2012 and followed it up with another bronze medal at X Games in 2013. He is known for throwing down difficult tricks in big air events and will no doubt leave it all on the hill in slopestyle at the Olympics. (Krister Sorbo/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Šárka Pančochová is a top slopestyle snowboard contender in Sochi
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    Šárka Pančochová of the Czech Republic won silver at X Games in 2013 and was crowned overall world snowboard tour champion at the end of the season. She is one of the strongest riders in the slopestyle field at the Olympics in Sochi. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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  • Maxence Parrot heading to Sochi after double gold at X Games
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    Canadian snowboarder Maxence Parrot is riding high heading into the Olympics after   double gold medal performance in big air and slopestyle at X Games. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

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  • Mark McMorris is an Olympic slopestyle medal contender
  • Australian Torah Bright looks to make Olympic snowboard history
  • Sebastien Toutant is aiming for the podium in Sochi
  • Silje Norendal aims for slopestyle gold in Sochi
  • Peetu Piiroinen of Finland is a slopestyle medal contender in Sochi
  • Enni Rukajarvi aims for gold in Sochi slopestyle event
  • American slopestyle snowboarder Chas Guldemond a top medal contender
  • American Jamie Anderson a top slopestyle contender in Sochi
  • Staale Sandbech is a strong slopestyle snowboarder
  • Spencer O'Brien is Canada's top ladies slopestyle snowboarding contender
  • Seppe Smits of Belgium looking for slopestyle glory in Sochi
  • Šárka Pančochová is a top slopestyle snowboard contender in Sochi
  • Maxence Parrot heading to Sochi after double gold at X 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.”

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