Max Parrot during slopestyle run at Sochi 2014

Competition begins: McMorris, Toutant, Parrot and O’Brien lead Canada’s slopestyle debut

On Thursday snowboard slopestyle meets the Olympic Winter Games. And the athletes are super-hyped.

It is one of the sports that will definitely have electric moments here in Sochi, including a handful of Canadian superstars. It’s exciting. (And not just because I got to use “hyped” in a piece).

Regina’s Mark McMorris has won just about every snowboard contest on the planet. He has nearly a dozen sponsors. And a reality TV show. But the biggest real-life stadium is yet to come, on the rails and jumps at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. He’ll also have to deal with a broken rib, something he has contended with in practice this week. But the 20-year-old is excited, “It’s a big step for slopestyle to be added to the Olympic Winter Games. For me as an athlete, to get an opportunity to do something bigger than any action sport event out there, it’ll be amazing,” commented McMorris.

There have been concerns here in Sochi about the safety of the course. Norwegian great Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone in training and was forced to withdraw. Shaun White called the slopes ‘intimidating’. As of Wednesday, White has also withdrawn from the slopestyle competition. « After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA, » said White in a statement.

One of snowboard’s freshest stars seems to be loving his surroundings:

Snowboarding’s relaxed culture isn’t new on the Olympic stage, freestyle events like halfpipe have been around since 1998. This year, Canada is flush with talent. McMorris has won X Games Aspen the last two years. Sébastien Toutant took the title as a rookie in 2011. And Quebec’s Maxence Parrot cannot be ignored either. He is coming into Sochi with the 2014 X Games slopestyle win. McMorris tumbled, Parrot took advantage.

As for Toutant, he knows the Olympics are a big deal. While McMorris first mentions extra practice and nutrition as his Sochi-motivated improvements, the 21-year-old Toutant foreshadows saving up a big run for Russia, “You want to give it your all in every competition, but the fact that the (Olympic) Winter Games come along only every four years, you arrive more prepared. I trained more and participated in fewer competitions to arrive in Sochi with a run that no one has ever seen before,” he said.

Sebastien Toutant Tricia Smith

Then the Quebec-native delivers this interesting insight, « The judges know you as an athlete. If you show them something new, if you ‘wow’ them, they’re more inclined to give you a higher score. »

For some time, Canada Snowboard has been preparing athletes for today, “Even before it got announced we were talking to Mark, Seb and Spencer as to what our national team would look like. So it’s been a 3-year process,” said Leo Addington, head freestyle coach.

“I would love to be standing on top of the podium. That’s my number one goal.” – McMorris on Sochi

Addington says the chill approach is meshing nicely with the Games, even with the paperwork, meetings, and logistical planning. “The media stuff is a big difference, the security is a huge difference, the lack of access to friends and family. Even at the X Games which is about the biggest contest in slopestyle and halfpipe, you can drive up to the hill and park in the parking lot show your accreditation and ride up the hill. The Olympics is totally different. »

FIS World Champion Spencer O’Brien will have her parents in the crowd as she rides for Canada, “The word Olympic to me means pride. Pride for your country and for yourself and what you’re doing in snowboarding. It’s such an individual sport, I don’t represent anyone but myself most of the time so I’m really excited to represent Canada and to be a part of a bigger team.”

McMorris cracks a smile earlier this year when asked about Sochi, “It’ll be nice to know the country is backing you. It’ll be really special, I’m looking forward to that moment.”

The moment is here. Men’s and women’s qualification starts today.