Rivalry fuels Max Parrot, Mark McMorris to Olympic podium

It's no secret that Canadian snowboard stars Max Parrot and Mark McMorris are rivals as much as teammates. But the two used that friction to capture silver and bronze medals, respectively, on Sunday at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang,

Canadians use different paths en route to snowboard medals

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

At age nine, Max Parrot begged his mom and dad to buy him a snowboard. They refused, citing safety concerns.

Undeterred, Parrot devised a business plan. He raised the cash by mowing virtually every lawn in his neighbourhood during a sweltering summer in Bromont, Que. Come fall, he bought the coveted board with his own money.

That initial investment paid off big time Saturday at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Down to his final run — after crashing on his first two attempts — Parrot seized silver in men's slopestyle snowboard with an even score of 86.00.

In doing so, Parrot nudged teammate Mark McMorris, of Regina, Sask., down to bronze to give Canada its first two medals of these Games.

Gold went to 17-year-old American Redmond Gerard, who shocked the snowboarding world with a final-run score of 87.16.

"I'm on a cloud," Parrot told reporters at the Phoenix Snow Park. "Even though there's not a rainy cloud here."

The Mark McMorris story is one for the ages, given he very nearly died last March after crashing into a tree while backcountry snowboarding near Whistler, B.C. The haunting sound of McMorris moaning and choking on his own blood, captured in the CBC documentary Unbroken, is that of a man clinging to life.

Less than 11 months later — despite a laundry list of injuries including a ruptured spleen, fractured jaw and left arm, collapsed lung, pelvic fracture, and rib fractures — McMorris collected the second bronze of his career with a score of 85.20 on his second run.

"Can we get an APB on one Mark McMorris," Mark's brother Craig said on the CBC Sports Olympic broadcast. "Suspect allegedly assaulting this slopestyle final."

McMorris tumbled on his final run, leaving the door open for Parrot to land on the podium.

After watching the judges favour a clean but safe performance by Gerard, Parrot made a tactical call on the fly to scale back the degree of difficulty. A gusting wind also played into his decision.

After all, he learned at age nine that switching up strategy is sometimes wise when pursuing something you badly want.

"I had to change my run at the last minute and go with something a little easier but more safe," Parrot said. "I saw Red landing his run. He didn't have two triples. It was just clean from top to bottom and that was just what the judges wanted to see."

'Insane to me'

Conservative snowboarding generally doesn't sit well with McMorris, especially in an Olympic final.

"Max played it safe and he got second, which is insane to me," said McMorris, the first Canadian man to win multiple medals in snowboarding at the Olympic Winter Games. "It's worse when you play it safe and it doesn't work out."

In time, the bronze may feel more like gold to McMorris. After all, he went from the intensive care unit to the Olympic podium in less than a year.

"I probably shouldn't even be here," he conceded. "For a sport that's progressing at such a rapid rate and not having snowboarded much in the last few years, to get on the podium is pretty cool. I had some low times, but these high times make it worthwhile."

While they're both Canadians, the rivalry between Parrot and McMorris is undeniable. McMorris sees himself as a pure snowboarder who values his time filming and riding in the backcountry every bit as much, or more, than competition.

Parrot is proud of the time he spends in the gym on the trampoline and he suspects McMorris might do the same — but just not tell anyone about it.

"Maybe he stopped now because, you know, in snowboarding [if] you're doing trampolining it's not known as something cool," Parrot told the CBC Sports reporter Benjamin Blum. "So I think he just stopped that for his image or maybe he does it secretly, I don't know."

The next chapter of the McMorris-Parrot rivalry will unfold Feb. 20 and 23, when big air snowboarding makes its Olympic debut. Both are favoured to make repeat trips to the podium.