Stone rolls to silver at snowboard worlds
A couple of years ago, Zach Stone was feeling burnt out, so the Canadian snowboarder took a break from competing and hit the slopes just for fun.
The move clearly paid off. The 19-year-old from Colingwood, Ont., captured silver in the big air contest Saturday in Barcelona, Spain in the opening event of the FIS snowboard world championship.
The medal was Canada's first since the event was added to the world lineup, and Stone's first since his return to the competitive circuit this season.
"I competed a lot when I was young and found I wasn't really going in the right direction, so I took a couple of years off, so I could have some time to myself, learn some new tricks, get comfortable on my snowboard again, remember why I love it so much," Stone said on a conference call.
Stone actually tied for second with Seppe Smits of Belgium at 48.9 points, but was awarded the silver medal through a tiebreaker.
Petja Piiroinen of Finland won the gold with 51.7 points.
"Today was a super cool day, I came out here expecting to make the final, that was my goal, and to come second is a pretty good achievement," Stone said.
Jesse Fulton, who's coached Stone since 2003, fully supported the athlete's break from the sport. In fact he suggested it.
"That was my philosophy," Fulton said. "Being a former athlete and competing at the top level for 12 years, if you compete too much it turns into a job and it goes against everything we get excited [about] in snowboarding. Then you start not wanting to be there and not wanting to compete and so your results start declining."
Stone travelled to Mammoth Mountain in California and then to Whistler, B.C., where he lives and trains now.
"He was just having fun, no agenda, no money to win, nobody to impress," Fulton said.
In his first two runs Saturday, Stone did a Backside Double Cork 1260, and then went on to land a Backside Double Cork 1080 in the final run of the event, held indoors before a crowd of 8,000 at Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.
Fulton felt a certain sense of pride seeing Stone win silver, as he was the first athlete he'd coached. Fulton was still competing in 2003, but was helping a friend coach an event in Collingwood when Stone's dad approached him about helping his son.
Now, the two are working towards a strong finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"He's just a really relaxed kid. He doesn't take anything for granted, and he's pretty simple," said the coach. "He's one of those naturally gifted riders in the country. I've always said he'll be one of Canada's greatest snowboarding achievements."
Harrison Gray of Newmarket, Ont., finished 14th, while Julien Beaulieu of Lac Beauport, Que., came 29th. Alexandre Leblanc of Beaupre, Que., finished 36th.
Stone will also compete in the slopestyle contest next Saturday in La Molina, Spain.