Comeback Complete: McMorris back on Olympic podium less than year after crash

The Canadian Press

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Considering Mark McMorris was on what he called his "death bed" less than a year ago, a bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was as good as gold.

"It does feel a little bit like a win," he said with a smile. "Like I said, I need to pinch myself. I'm pretty lucky."

The Regina snowboarder was hospitalized last March after a backcountry crash near Whistler, unsure that his career would continue because his injuries were so severe. He broke his jaw and left arm, suffered a ruptured spleen, rib fractures, a stable pelvic fracture and a collapsed left lung.

McMorris was on a liquid diet for six weeks, underwent intense physiotherapy sessions for months and then finally returned to competition last fall. 

He capped his impressive comeback Sunday in the men's slopestyle final at Phoenix Park. McMorris's score of 85.20 left him just behind Canadian teammate Max Parrot and gold medallist Redmond Gerard of the United States.

"I'm on the podium and I probably shouldn't even be here," McMorris said. "So I'm pretty stoked."

After a decent opener in the three-run final, McMorris nailed a backside triple 1620 on the last jump of his second run. High winds had forced him to improvise and he came through with a move he hadn't tried in a month.

"It was the cleanest trick in my run so I was really stoked on that and that was definitely the deciding factor for me," he said.

McMorris, clearly pleased with the effort, extended his arms, smiled, and stuck his tongue out as he moved into first place.

Gerard later passed McMorris with 87.16 points in his final attempt. McMorris fell in his final trip down the course, a slight under-rotation on his last jump doing him in.

"It just didn't come around," he said. "Everything was going a lot cleaner that run so it would have been nice to land. But I was very happy to land that second run."

Parrot was the last competitor of the day. He fell in his first two runs but nailed his third run to move into second place with a score of 86.00.

"I said to myself, 'Listen Max, you fell two straight times. You can't fall a third straight time,'" he said. "I had a lot of pressure and my heart was beating really fast before starting on the course. But that's where I told myself that I've been snowboarding since I was nine years old and that it was already a victory that I was here at the Olympic Games."

The silver and bronze were Canada's first medals of the Games.

McMorris has battled significant injuries throughout his career. He broke a rib less than two weeks before the Sochi Games and still managed to win slopestyle bronze.

He broke his femur at a competition two years later and again returned earlier than expected. After the backcountry crash, McMorris spent 10 days in hospital before beginning the slow road back.

"The lowest point was not being able to move really, just being super-uncomfortable," he said. "Not being able to really talk or anything like that. That sucked because it was just from one stupid mistake and I wish I could take that back every day of my life.

"But I don't know, maybe it makes me a better person or stronger or maybe it helps people get through things too. So I'm glad I can be in the position I am to motivate."

McMorris slowly rebuilt his strength and mobility by doing physio work in four-week intervals. Underwater treadmill work, cycling conditioning, soft tissue joint work, mobility drills and other exercises were on his to-do list.

"It's been some low times, but these high times make it worthwhile," he said. "I'm glad I pulled through that last injury to be here because this is pretty special."

There were four Canadians in the 12-man final. Tyler Nicholson of North Bay, Ont., was seventh and Sebastien Toutant of L'Assomption, Que., was 11th.

The women's slopestyle qualification was cancelled Sunday afternoon due to inclement weather conditions. Organizers decided to schedule a two-run final instead on Monday.  

Most slopestyle competitors will also compete in the big air event in Pyeongchang, a new addition to the Olympic program for 2018.

The big air finals are set for Feb. 23-24 at Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

 

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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