Sports·THE BUZZER

The X Games gave some Canadian Olympic contenders a big lift

With competition at the Winter Olympics just nine days away, CBC Sports' daily newsletter recaps a big weekend for Canadian snowboarders and freestyle skiers at the X Games.

McMorris wins snowboard gold; Oldham takes 2 ski medals

Canadian star Mark McMorris built momentum for the Olympics by winning the men's snowboard slopestyle title at the X Games. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via The Associated Press)

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Canadian snowboarders and freestyle skiers ramped up for the Olympics

With the start of competition in Beijing now just nine days away, the winter Olympic sports schedule was noticeably lighter over the weekend. But Canadian snowboarders and freestyle skiers still managed to rack up eight medals at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado, giving their Olympic podium hopes a lift in the process. Here's a look at the standouts:

Mark McMorris: After capturing back-to-back Olympic bronze medals in slopestyle, the snowboard star looks poised for an upgrade. He won the X Games men's slopestyle title for the sixth time on Saturday, which turned out to be Canada's only gold of the meet. Though McMorris finished a disappointing fourth in the men's big air event, he's a strong Olympic medal contender in that one too as the reigning world champion.

Max Parrot: Speaking of dual medal contenders, Parrot took silver in the men's snowboard big air on Saturday, was the runner-up to McMorris at last year's worlds, and was the men's slopestyle silver medallist at the 2018 Olympics. And don't forget about Seb Toutant. He skipped the X Games, but Toutant is the defending Olympic men's snowboard big air champ and he captured a slopestyle silver at last year's worlds. With these guys leading the way, Canada has a chance to land three men on the podium in both the big air and slopestyle snowboard events in Beijing.

Laurie Blouin: The reigning women's snowboard big air world champion and 2018 Olympic slopestyle silver medallist had a meh X Games, taking bronze in the slopestyle on Friday before finishing fifth in the big air. But, like the men mentioned above, Blouin is fully capable of reaching the podium in both of her events in Beijing.

Megan Oldham: The 20-year-old freestyle skier topped all Canadians at the X Games by winning two medals — a silver in the women's big air and a bronze in the slopestyle, duplicating her results from last year. She also captured bronze in the slopestyle at last year's world championships. Oldham isn't as heralded as the snowboarders we just covered, but she's won a lot of big-time medals for someone her age. Remember the name for Beijing.

Oldham was among the 24 freestyle skiers named today to the Canadian Olympic team. Joining her are three other athletes who just won medals at the X Games: Max Moffat (silver in the men's slopestyle), Teal Harle (bronze in the men's big air) and Olivia Asselin (bronze in the women's big air).

Canada's Olympic freestyle ski team is of course headlined by moguls superstar Mikaël Kingsbury, who's favoured to win his second consecutive gold medal. 2018 women's halfpipe gold medallist Cassie Sharpe, who did not compete at the X Games, will also be defending an Olympic title.

An up-and-coming skier to watch in Beijing is 24-year-old halfpiper Rachael Karker. She also skipped the X Games, but Karker has reached the podium in eight consecutive World Cup starts (dating back to December 2019) and she grabbed silver at last year's world championships. Karker and Sharpe will be hard-pressed to take down reigning world champ Eileen Gu of China, who recently completed a perfect World Cup season, but they both have a great shot at the Olympic podium.

Canada is also sending a solid group of men's ski halfpipers to Beijing in Simon d'Artois (a silver medallist at last year's world championships), Noah Bowman (fifth place at the last two Winter Olympics), and Brendan Mackay (the current co-leader in the World Cup standings). Bowman was the only one at the X Games. He placed fourth. Read more about the Canadian Olympic freestyle ski team here.

Returning Champions: Mikaël Kingsbury

1 year ago
Duration 4:12
Canadian moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury looks back on his Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018, his recovery from breaking two vertebrae in his back, and his approach heading into Beijing 2022.

Quickly...

There's still a chance of an all-Canadian final at the Australian Open. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are both into the men's quarter-finals after scoring impressive wins in the previous round. The ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime rebounded from a tough first set to beat No. 27 Marin Cilic, a former U.S. Open champion. The 14th-seeded Shapovalov shocked No. 3 Alexander Zverev, who won the Olympic men's gold last summer, in straight sets. The Canadians are on opposite sides of the draw, so they wouldn't meet until the final. First, though, they'll have to survive tough opponents in the quarters. Shapovalov takes on Rafael Nadal, the winner of a record-tying 20 men's Grand Slam titles (though only one in Australia, and that came 13 years ago). Their match is tonight, sometime after 10 p.m. ET. Tomorrow night, Auger-Aliassime plays No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, the highest-ranked men's player in the tournament after Novak Djokovic got kicked out of the country. Read more about Felix's win over Cilic and the rest of today's most interesting Aussie Open results here.

Beijing Olympic organizers are lowering their threshold for what it takes to produce a negative COVID-19 test. Under the original standards, athletes had to show what's known as a "cycle threshold" value of 40 in order for their test to be considered negative. Many places in Canada have set the bar lower, at 35. In the NHL and NBA, it's 30. The Olympics' higher number had caused many athletes to fear they'd test positive upon arrival in Beijing, even if they'd repeatedly tested negative before getting on the plane. This was especially the case for athletes who recovered from COVID-19 within the last month. But Beijing organizers relieved some of those worries today by lowering their threshold to 35. Read more about the move in this story by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.

A minor-league hockey player was banned indefinitely and cut by his team for an alleged racist gesture. The ECHL suspended Jacob Panetta, and the Jacksonville Icemen subsequently released the defenceman, after he taunted opponent Jordan Subban, who is Black, by what was seen by many as pantomiming a monkey. Panetta later claimed via a prepared statement that he read on his Instagram account that he intended it as a "tough-guy, bodybuilder-like gesture" and that he has done it before to "non-racialized" players. "My actions were not racially motivated at all," he said. Among those not buying the explanation were P.K. Subban, the NHL veteran who is Jordan's older brother. "This happens a lot and it never gets exposed in the lower leagues," he tweeted. Read more about the incident and the reaction to it here.

And finally…

Was that the best weekend of NFL playoff games ever? If (like me) you're a wounded Bills fan, it might be hard to see it that way. But consider: All four games were decided on the final play; both No. 1 seeds got toppled; the greatest quarterback of all time nearly pulled off another comeback for the ages; and, to cap things off last night, the two most exciting QBs in the sport engineered one of the most manic and memorable playoff endings of all time. It'll be tough to top all that this Sunday when Kansas City faces Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Rams take on San Francisco to decide who goes to the Super Bowl. But never bet against the NFL.

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