Canada unveils Olympic snowboard slopestyle team
Mark McMorris, Spencer O'Brien headline squad of 7 for Pyeongchang
A group of five, led by Sébastien Toutant and Spencer O'Brien, will join 2014 Olympic bronze medallist Mark McMorris and 2016-17 X Games champion Max Parrot on Canada's snowboard slopestyle team next month at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Laurie Blouin, Tyler Nicholson and Brooke Voigt were the other athletes nominated by the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canada Snowboard on Tuesday in Whistler, B.C.
"It's a really tough team to make, they only take four guys to the Games and there's easily seven that could go and medal," McMorris told CBC Sports in October. "If we could all go, everybody would definitely have a chance, whereas there's other countries that will get to bring four but maybe one of them has a chance of getting a medal.
"The Olympics is kind of frustrating like that, but you just got to work hard to get your spot."
Canada Snowboard had pre-qualified McMorris and Parrot earlier this year.
McMorris, 24, returned to World Cup action in late November with a gold-medal performance in Beijing following a horrific injury in March. The Regina native suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed lung in an off-trail crash near Whistler.
He has won 14 medals at the Winter X Games since 2011, including a gold and two bronze last season.
"I'm looking forward to having similar feelings leaving as I did [at the 2014 Sochi Olympics] and I'm stoked that I rode to the best of my ability when it mattered," McMorris said in a statement released by Canada Snowboard.
"I think it's really cool to go and represent Canada and I'm looking forward to it because the nation seems to care a lot about the Olympic Games."
Parrot a medal contender
Considered a gold medal contender in slopestyle and big air, McMorris dominated his events last year, winning Crystal Globes as discipline champion in big air and the overall freestyle title.
Parrot, 23, is also an Olympic medal contender and eight-time X Games medallist. Like McMorris, the Bromont, Que., resident has been a mainstay on X Games and World Cup podiums since he placed fifth at the Sochi Winter Games.
Last January, Parrot landed the first-ever quad underflip en route to winning X Games gold in Aspen, Colo.
"I'm just trying to put down the run I've been working on the whole week of training," he told CBC Sports in the fall. "I'm trying to show the world the best run I can do and in the end if I end up on the podium I'm very happy. If someone else got a better run than me, then he deserves it."
The 23-year-old Toutant of Montreal earned his sixth career X Games medal last year when he claimed slopestyle bronze in Norway. Toutant, who finished ninth in slopestyle at Sochi, is coming off a career season in 2016-17 that included first-place finishes at the Cardona Winter Games in New Zealand and Slopestyle Jamboree World Cup in Quebec City.
Nicholson, 20, will make his Olympic debut in Pyeongchang after serving as an alternate four years ago in Russia. The native of North Bay, Ont., made headlines in 2016 by claiming the overall title in men's slopestyle on the World Snowboard Tour.
Nicholson captured his first career X Games medal at the 2017 event in Aspen, where he won slopestyle silver, before having knee surgery. Nicholson returned to competition at the Dew Tour last month in Breckenridge, Colo.
Blouin has big expectations
On the women's side, O'Brien will look to improve upon a 12th-place showing in Sochi, where slopestyle made its Olympic debut. The 29-year-old, who hails from Courtenay, B.C., had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis just two months before the Games and had her training disrupted.
After landing the first-ever backside 900 in women's slopestyle at the 2015 X Games, O'Brien won gold last year for her sixth X Games medal. In December, she won the women's slopestyle event at the Dew Tour.
The 21-year-old Blouin is the reigning FIS World Cup champion. The Stoneham, Que., native also placed sixth in big air at the event last March in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
"It's a huge moment in my career. It's my first Olympic Games, so I have a lot of expectations," Blouin said in a statement. "My goal is to get to the final, and if I get to the final, to win a medal, so I trained hard for that. I'm really happy to represent my country in Pyeongchang."
The versatile Voigt was also an alternate at the 2014 Olympics. Last season, the 24-year-old native of Fort McMurray, Alta., posted a top-10 finish at the big air Olympic test event in Pyeongchang and earned a bronze medal at a World Cup event.
"The strength of our snowboard team reflects the incredible depth Canada has in this exciting sport," Canada chef de mission Isabelle Charest said. "I'm looking forward to cheering these athletes on as they challenge for the podium in Pyeongchang."
Men's slopestyle qualification is Feb. 10 at Phoenix Snow Park, with the finals held the following day. The women qualification and finals are slated for Feb. 11 and 12, respectively.
Big air follows with women's (Feb. 19) and men's (Feb. 21) qualification on a specially constructed ramp at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre. The women's finals are Feb. 23 and men the next day.