At Sochi 2014, a trio Canadian snowboarders attacked the slopes of Russia in the first-ever Olympic slopestyle and big air competitions.
Their journeys have since greatly differed, but Mark McMorris, Max Parrot and Sebastien Toutant will each be back for their third Games at Beijing 2022.
“The skill is there. And the veteran wisdom and experience is there as well. … You can’t beat that,” said CBC snowboard analyst Craig McMorris, the older brother of Mark McMorris.
In addition to slopestyle and big air, riders will also compete in halfpipe, snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom events. The first medals in the sport will be awarded in women’s slopestyle on Feb. 6, with events running until men’s big air on Feb. 15.
Each event follows a roughly similar format, with qualification runs cutting down competitors ahead of the final.
The majority of Canada’s medal hopes lie in men’s slopestyle and big air. McMorris is a two-time slopestyle bronze medallist while Parrot took silver in the event in 2018. Toutant won big air gold in Pyeongchang.
And yet there’s a feeling of unrealized potential among the trio, who will be joined by 25-year-old Olympic rookie Darcy Sharpe in Beijing.
Entering Pyeongchang, Mark McMorris had just recovered from a near-fatal crash. Even if he wasn’t just happy to be there, the podium appearance was icing on the cake.
The 28-year-old Regina native currently ranks third in slopestyle and fourth in big air, leaving him right on the cusp of an Olympic medal. He won gold in the former while placing fourth in the latter at the recent X Games, though he’s also the reigning big air world champion.
It all means his expectations may be higher than bronze this time around.
WATCH | McMorris lands X Games slopestyle gold:
To prepare for Beijing, Craig McMorris said Sebastien Toutant has been snowboarding less than ever.
“But he’s riding better, which I think as you get older is like kind of a little bit of a secret because it’s so counterintuitive. You think you should snowboard every single day, but sometimes when you get older, you don’t need to.”
Toutant, of L’Assomption, Que., crashed out of slopestyle in Pyeongchang, placing last, before rebounding all the way to the top of the big air podium. The 29-year-old currently ranks fourth in slopestyle after a silver medal at worlds. His big air ranking suffered due to the lack of competition.
WATCH | Toutant takes World Cup gold in Calgary:
Then there’s Parrot, who since his Pyeongchang silver has recovered from cancer in time for another Olympics.
“There’s a lot of lessons I can transfer to snowboarding. … I feel in shape. I feel ready. So of course my goal is to go for the gold, that’s for sure. But I’m really happy as well that if I don’t get the gold, I won’t have any regrets,” Parrot said recently.
Parrot was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma just months after the 2018 Games, but following chemotherapy treatment he returned to competition less than a year later.
He says he’ll be more appreciative of his Olympic journey this time.
“Every time I step on my snowboard, I smile twice as [much] as before,” he said.
WATCH | Parrot snags big air silver at X Games:
Standing in the Canadians’ way is American Red Gerard, the current big air points leader and reigning Olympic slopestyle champion. Craig McMorris pointed to Gerard’s fellow American Dusty Henrickson as “an absolute gold-medal threat.” Norway’s Markus Kleveland also lingers with a top-seven ranking in both disciplines.
On the women’s side, Quebec City’s Laurie Blouin took slopestyle silver in 2018 following a training crash that nearly left her unable to compete.
“Going into Beijing, I just hope I’m not going to repeat what I did in practice, but I want to repeat the medal for sure,” Blouin told CBC Sports.
Blouin, 25, said she’s entering these Olympics the same way she would any other contest. And she’s unbothered by the pandemic-induced restriction on family and friends on site — she didn’t have any in Korea four years ago either, as she says it creates too much stress.
WATCH | Blouin bags slopestyle bronze in Aspen:
Regardless, she’s excited to be an Olympian once again.
“It means a lot. It’s pretty big to represent your country. It’s nice to wear the Canadian flag and Maple Leaf. I’m proud to be Canadian and proud to ride for Canada.”
The women’s field is deep, with returning gold medallist Jamie Anderson (U.S.) and Anna Gasser (Austria) joined by the likes of Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi and Kokomo Murase.
International stars should dominate halfpipe discussion — a pair of Americans, in particular.
Chloe Kim burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old in Pyeongchang, winning a worldwide audience with both her tricks on the course and her food-related tweets during competition.
Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m getting hangry
Kim went on to win gold, following in the footsteps of compatriot Shaun White, “The Flying Tomato” who took gold at 19 in 2006.
White would add two more gold medals after that, and heads into his fifth Olympics in Beijing ranked ninth.
Canada may be hoping for some teenage magic of its own, as 16-year-old Brooke D’Hondt — the youngest member of Team Canada — hits the slopes in China.
Qualifications for both women and men occur on Feb. 9. Women’s medals will be handed out the following day, while the men’s podium will be established one day after that.
Eliot Grondin was in D’Hondt’s position in Pyeongchang as the youngest member of Canada’s contingent at 16.
He placed just 36th in his Olympic debut, but Grondin has since evolved into a legitimate medal threat after taking bronze at the most recent world championships and gold at the world juniors.
Grondin, of Sainte-Marie, Que., currently ranks fourth in World Cup standings thanks to two podium appearances.
WATCH | Grondin snares World Cup silver:
Canada’s top performers in the 2018 event, Kevin Hill (eighth) and Zoe Bergermann (13th) will also compete in Beijing.
Canadians had taken medals in each of the previous three Olympics, with Dominique Maltais earning 2006 bronze and 2014 silver around Maelle Ricker’s 2010 gold. Mike Robertson took silver for the men in 2010.
Canada’s Tess Critchlow and Audrey McManiman both currently rank in the top 10.
The women’s races take place on Feb. 9, with the men going a day later.
Parallel giant slalom
Canada has six athletes competing in the event, with four just added following an appeal.
Megan Farrell, ranked 21st among the women, is the country’s best hope for a medal in an event that serves as snowboarding’s answer to alpine skiing.
The entire competition will be played out on Feb. 8.
WATCH | Marie Philip Poulin golden on and off the ice: