Surprise medals bode well for Canada's snowboard future
Sebastien Toutant, Laurie Blouin add to record medal haul
Canada's snowboard team hit the slopes and soared to new heights with four medals in Pyeongchang, the most ever won at a single Olympics.
Going into the Games, Canadians had won only seven medals in five Olympics.
As expected, Max Parrot and Mark McMorris landed on the podium with a silver and bronze, respectively, in the men's slopestyle competition.
But what pushed Canada to its record total was a pair of medals better categorized as surprises.
Sebastien Toutant became the first Olympic champion in men's big air while Laurie Blouin overcame injury and controversial course conditions to win silver in the women's slopestyle competition.
Big air, big opportunity
The introduction of big air was good news for Canadian medal chances as two of the event's favourites just happened to be Canadian.
McMorris is a past overall World Cup champion in big air and has six Winter X Games medals in the discipline, while Parrot has won three straight X Games titles in Aspen.
But it was the 25-year-old Toutant, the veteran of the Canadian trio, who rose above the competition to claim the historic gold and Canada's 500th medal in Olympic history, both Summer and Winter Games.
The L'Assomption, Que., native is a slopestyle specialist, but it was in big air that a then 13-year-old Toutant announced his arrival at the now defunct Empire Shakedown contest.
"I didn't realize how big it was. I was just there just to ride and have fun," Toutant told CBC Sports last month. "Everything started there ... it taught me that I ride at my best when I'm having fun and don't put too much pressure on myself. It was a magical moment."
There were no expectations for Toutant, especially after he finished last in the slopestyle final. He hadn't won a World Cup big air event since 2011 and a compressed disc in his lower back kept him from snowboarding for months.
Toutant had nothing to lose and his performance illustrated that as he cleanly landed a cab triple 1620 and backside triple cork 1620 to put the gold medal out of reach.
Blouin's participation was very much in doubt leading up to the competition after suffering an apparent head injury two days prior during a training session.
The Stoneham, Que., native's first Olympics appeared to be over before they even started. But following further evaluation by team doctors, Blouin was given the green light the day before the event.
With nothing but a mere run through of the course, the reigning world champion was at a huge disadvantage. To make matters worse, strong winds of up to 48 km/h were wrecking havoc on the course and taking competitors down one by one.
But Blouin grabbed the silver medal, one of the few women to successfully navigate the course in the less than ideal weather conditions.
Canada should continue to contend in men's big air and slopestyle in future Olympics. Parrot, McMorris, and Toutant should all be back for another Games while first-time Olympian Tyler Nicholson impressed with a seventh-place finish in slopestyle and was just 1.25 points short of qualifying for the big air final.
Anybody has the skillset to win and for Toutant, that's what continues to drive him.
"That's what's so exciting, and that's why I never want to quit snowboarding," Toutant told reporters are his gold-medal win. "That's why you never really want to switch to another sport because there's always something more you could do on on your board."
Parrot was the first snowboarder to ever land a quadruple underflip, something he did at the 2017 Winter X Games, but the dimensions of the ramp in Pyeongchang were not suitable for the trick.
Toutant has it made it known that he doesn't want big air to be all about the quad and he's proof that it isn't needed to win.
But the next Games in Beijing could bring about changes that could see the quad come into play.
Blouin, 21, will lead the women's squad moving forward in big air and slopestyle while Spencer O'Brien may have competed at her final Games after an illustrious career that includes five Winter X Games medals and a world championship in slopestyle.