Mark McMorris, 19, will be one of Canada's medal favourites in Sochi. (Getty Images)Mark McMorris admits the comparisons can get a little repetitive, but he understands that being measured against Shaun White is only a testament to how far he’s come thus far in his career.
Ever since the 19-year-old Canadian competed at the Winter X Games in January and captured his second of back-to-back gold medals in slopestyle – a discipline in which riders take to a course of rails and jumps and try to land big-air tricks – by outperforming the legendary White and a host of others, he’s been pinned as the biggest obstacle standing between the red-headed American and two more Olympic golds.
White, of course, is the sport’s biggest name having won 13 gold medals at the Winter X Games – five in slopestyle – and two at the Olympics over the course of his career.
His stature within the sport combined with the fact that slopestyle has been added to the Olympic schedule for the first time and it’s no wonder that talks of a Canadian-American snowboard showdown are beginning to ramp up with Sochi 2014 still months away.
McMorris isn’t looking to add fuel to the ‘rivalry’ though.
“I just feel like both of us really like to win,” McMorris said over the phone from Toronto where he spent part of last weekend speaking with media about his new partnership with SportChek and helping fans shop for new snowboard gear. “I think it makes for great competition and I think the media plays it out to be a rivalry when really in real life I don’t have anything against Shaun, we’re just two competitive dudes.
“Shaun has accomplished so much and done so many great things for the sport. [He] competes so well under pressure and can consistently win year after year so I have a lot of respect for his riding.”
The Olympics represent new territory for McMorris, who grew up in the flatlands of Regina, not exactly a breeding ground for young snowboarders. But the sport became a natural progression for a four-year-old who started out on a skateboard.
Living in the prairies there’s only so many months out of the year that can be spent on a board with four wheels. So, one winter when McMorris was five his mom Cindy took him and his older brother Craig, seven at the time, out to Lake Louise for a weekend trip.
It was there that both boys took the opportunity to try snowboarding for the first time. They were hooked almost immediately.
"I literally had to pull them off the mountain that night," Cindy told ESPN of the first day her two sons spent on a snowboard hill in Lake Louise.
Mark got his first board two years later and by the time he and Craig were in their teens they were spending anytime they had during the winter split between their backyard, where they’d build small jumps out of shoveled snow, and Mission Ridge, a local hill about 45 minutes from Regina.
Eventually, both brothers caught the eye of Saskatchewan snowboard team coach Russ Davies and they began travelling to Calgary every weekend where they’d spend hours on the hill harnessing what had become their craft.
It’s all helped lead Mark to where he is today; a three-time Winter X Games gold medalist about to begin preparing for what he refers to as “the year of a lifetime.”
“I think it’s really cool that it’s all happened this fast for me,” he said. “It continues to just get better and better year after year and you just stay in that spirit of wanting to reach bigger and better things and keep having a really good time with it.
“This year people are looking at me to win gold and it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I want to be able to do that for myself and for the country.”