Sebastien Toutant's tenacity earns him inaugural Olympic men's big air gold

Despite injury setbacks, Canadian beats out superstar teammates to become Olympic champion

Sebastien Toutant's tenacity earns him inaugural Olympic men's big air gold
Gold medallist Sebastien Toutant of Canada celebrates his win in the first-ever men's snowboard big air final on Saturday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. © Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

Channelling his inner hockey player, Sebastien Toutant kept his "upper-body" injury a secret heading into the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Sure, a compressed disc in his lower back prevented him from snowboarding for months. And sure, he was relegated to training in the gym while his high-flying teammates – and competitors – practised on actual snow in preparation for their Olympic moments.

But much like his hockey counterparts, Toutant sees no sense grousing over injuries – especially when his sport involves daily dalliances with gravity.

On Saturday, Toutant – cranky back and all – managed the seemingly impossible by beating out fellow Canadians Max Parrot and Mark McMorris in the inaugural men's Olympic big air final.

The 25-year-old Montrealer later clenched his jaw and swallowed hard in a misty medal ceremony to mark Canada's 11th gold at these Games.

"I just love snowboarding so much, and I've been through so much lately," Toutant told reporters in Pyeongchang. "A couple of months ago, I couldn't even snowboard, so it definitely feels great that I'm able to ride at my best and to put the tricks down.

"To be able to show up and to show the world what I can do is just awesome."

'If you're not first, you're last'

Also awesome: climbing from last place in the Olympic slopestyle to first place in big air. In many sports, that kind of swing is unheard of. But it's business as usual in snowboarding where millimetres and fractions of a second mean the difference between landing or flubbing a jump.

"I've always been saying, 'If you're not first, you're last,'" Toutant said. "I'm always trying my best to get on the podium."

On his first jump Saturday, Toutant landed a cab triple 1620 for 84.75 points. On his second jump, he stomped the backside triple cork 1620 for 89.50 points.

He crashed on his third-and-final attempt, leaving him to wait for the final half-dozen riders to determine his fate.

"It was hard to be at the bottom for sure watching all the other guys, but I just love snowboarding and I just love all these guys," he said. "All these guys are my good friends  so I was like wishing the best to all the guys.

"I wasn't wishing for them to fall, l but I was definitely wishing myself to win the medal."

Going with the flow is a way of life for Toutant. At age 9, he busted his skis, picked up his brother's old snowboard and went shredding for the first time. By 14, he realized he could make a career out of his new hobby.

As a Canadian snowboarder, Toutant rides in the massive shadow cast by McMorris and Parrot. But this time around, McMorris failed to land his first two jumps and Parrot crashed twice on the switch triple cork 1800.

"I have no regrets about the tricks I've chosen today," pronounced Parrot, the silver medallist in slopestyle. "Just before my third run, I could have actually chosen to go for an easier trick and land on the podium but I chose not to.

"I chose to stick with the plan I had because I really wanted to put that trick down and show the world how it can be done."

In a final punctuated by spectacular crashes, Toutant, silver medallist Kyle Mack, of the U.S., and bronze medallist Billy Morgan, of Great Britain, were the only ones to post two jumps with scores over 80.

"They're all good boarders, they all could have won," Toutant said of the star-studded field. "And that's what snowboarding is all about, you never know who's going to take it.

"That's what's so exciting, and that's why I never want to quit snowboarding. That's why you never really want to switch to another sport because there's always something more you could do on on your board."

Stay tuned.​