Winning Olympic gold still 'fresh' for snowboarder Sébastien Toutant
Canada's big air champion realizing magnitude of accomplishment
Snowboarder Sébastien Toutant gets plenty of hang time when he's competing in big air and slopestyle. But the Repentigny, Que., resident is still getting the hang of what it means to be an Olympian.
Last week, the 25-year-old returned home from Pyeongchang, South Korea, to a wild scene at Montreal's Trudeau airport, where 30 friends and family members awaited the first-time Winter Games champion.
"It was crazy. I had such a nice welcome back … just showing my medal and seeing all those smiles of people holding the medal is pretty sick," Toutant told CBC Sports ahead of this week's Burton U.S. Open in Vail, Colo.
The event features snowboard's best halfpipe and slopestyle riders, including fellow Canadians Mark McMorris and Max Parrot and American halfpipe stars Shaun White and Chloe Kim.
Despite the short turnaround from the Games, Toutant is focused on putting the practice in to win a medal at what he considers a special place.
"The U.S. Open is the oldest snowboarding contest and if there's one contest I don't want to miss, it's the U.S. Open."
The event will be the last in what's been a whirlwind season for Toutant. Leading up to the U.S. Open, Toutant has been making various media appearances — so much so that he has yet to decide a home for his gold medal.
"So far, I haven't found a place because I feel like I've got to carry it pretty much everywhere I go now because everybody wants to see it," Toutant said, jokingly.
Toutant admits he hasn't been sleeping much lately but he's enjoying the spotlight. The five-time Winter X Games medallist is used to being under the microscope but after his second Olympics, Toutant knows the Games are something else.
"When I was in Korea, it was so fresh — you don't really get it. Once I got home and started meeting people that I don't even know see the medal — you could see in their eyes that it's a really big deal," Toutant says.
"That's when I started thinking, this is huge. This is why the Olympics are such a big deal."
As an Olympian, Toutant understood it's become bigger than himself and his sponsors. He's competing on a world stage for his country.
The love and support Toutant received from Canadians on social media and in-person is unlike anything he's ever experienced.
For so many years, snowboarding was left in the dark — many of its great athletes and accomplishments relatively unknown outside of the sport's bubble. But with snowboard's presence bigger than ever thanks to the Olympic stage, Toutant couldn't be happier to use its platform to keep growing the sport and is hopeful to have another shot at gold in four years in Beijing.
"That's why I'm so proud our sport is at the Olympics. We get to show the world what's slopestyle or big air snowboarding is. That's the main point — getting more people to snowboard and hyped up on such a sick sport. X Games has been our biggest contest for many years but what's different is that the whole world knows what the Olympics are," Toutant said.
"The level [needed] to win the X Games, to win the Olympics is the same thing. But once you win the Olympics, it's just a bigger deal. It happens every four years and everybody knows about it."
With the off-season near, Toutant is feeling rejuvenated. He's no longer feeling any pain from a lingering lower back injury which kept him off the snow for a few months and enters competition this week with one of the only medals missing from a decorated 12-year career.
Toutant plans to start working on some film projects — a common practice among snowboarders — similar to the viral video that saw Toutant shredding the streets of Montreal.
But before that, Toutant might finish another project first.
"I have a trophy room at my place but I definitely want to do something so it stands out. It's a really important medal … we'll find a place for it," Toutant said.