Canada's snowboarders are eyeing Olympic medals — but first, the X Games
Several Canadian Olympians are competing this week in Aspen
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Some Canadian snowboard stars have 2 huge events coming up
With the first snowboarding event of the Beijing Winter Olympics just 16 days away, Canada announced today the 19 athletes it's sending to compete in the five variations of the sport on the program: snowboard cross, slopestyle, big air, halfpipe and parallel giant slalom. You can read more about the strong-looking team and see the full list of athletes here.
Five of those riders, including some big stars, are also gearing up for what's often the biggest event on their calendar — the winter X Games, which run Friday through Sunday in Aspen, Colorado. Here's a little bit about each of them:
Mark McMorris: A back-to-back Olympic slopestyle bronze medallist in 2014 and '18, McMorris is the reigning men's world champion in big air and has won a combined seven big air and slopestyle gold medals at the Aspen X Games. The 28-year-old is slated to compete in both events again in Aspen and at the Olympics.
Laurie Blouin: The 25-year-old is also a dual threat to medal in big air and slopestyle at both the X Games and the Olympics. Like McMorris, she won a big air world title last year and an Olympic slopestyle medal in 2018, when she took silver. Blouin is also a former world champ in slopestyle and she won the women's big air gold at the 2019 X Games in Aspen. In Beijing, she'll have a chance to become one of Canada's first medallists. The women's slopestyle event begins on the night of Feb. 4 in Canadian time zones, and the medal round goes the next night.
Max Parrot: He finished one step up from McMorris on the Olympic men's slopestyle podium in 2018, and one down from him on the big air medal stand at the 2021 world championships, taking silver both times. Parrot, 27, won slopestyle gold at the 2014 X Games in Aspen, but big air is his signature event. He's won it five times in Aspen, and it will be his lone competition this year. Parrot is expected to compete in both big air and slopestyle in Beijing.
Darcy Sharpe: The 25-year-old will make his Olympic debut in Beijing after grabbing Canada's fourth and final spot in the men's big air and slopestyle events. Sharpe is the least-accomplished rider in that group, but he won slopestyle gold at the 2020 Aspen X Games, and silver in big air at the 2015 world championships. He's competing only in slopestyle at these X Games.
Elizabeth Hosking: The 20-year-old finished a career-best seventh in the women's halfpipe at last year's world championships and currently ranks ninth in the World Cup standings. In Beijing, she'll go up against American sensation Chloe Kim, who won Olympic gold as a 17-year-old in 2018 and added the world title last year. Hosking is competing in the women's superpipe at the X Games, which Kim is skipping this year as she prepares for the Olympics.
One of Canada's big-name snowboarders also passed on the X Games. Seb Toutant, 29, will defend his Olympic men's big air gold medal after winning the inaugural event four years ago. He went on to capture a slopestyle silver at the 2021 world championships, and is slated to compete in both events in Beijing.
An Olympic snowboard event you won't see at the X Games is snowboard cross — the one where four riders at a time hurtle down a course laced with bumps, jumps and tricky turns. Canada's top medal contender is Éliot Grondin, a 20-year-old who won bronze at the world championships last season, gold at the world juniors, and was the runner-up in the men's World Cup chase. He currently ranks fourth in the standings and has reached the podium twice this season. Despite his age, Grondin is not an Olympic rookie. He placed 36th in 2018 as a 16-year-old.
In addition to snowboarding, the X Games also feature freestyle skiing events. Canada's Olympic team has not yet been named, but the hopefuls competing this week in Aspen are Evan McEachran (men's slopestyle, big air), Megan Oldham (women's slopestyle, big air), Max Moffatt (men's slopestyle, knuckle huck), Teal Harle (men's big air), Édouard Therriault (men's big air), Noah Bowman (men's superpipe) and Elena Gaskell (women's big air).
If you're wondering, knuckle huck is a newish, non-Olympic, sort of anything-goes event that takes place on the big air course. But instead of hitting the massive jump, riders bypass it and use the "knuckle" of the hill (just past the jump, where the slope angles downward) to "huck" their best low-flying tricks. Groups of eight athletes go one after another and do as many attempts as they can in the allotted time. There are no scores — the judges just pick a winner. So it's more about vibes and impressing the other riders and fans than about executing textbook moves. Read more about the event and see what it looks like here.
Stephanie Labbé is retiring. The fiery goalkeeper was the face (literally) of the Canadian women's soccer team's thrilling gold-medal victory at last summer's Tokyo Olympics. While many of us could barely watch the deciding penalty shootout because the pressure was so intense, Labbé greeted Sweden's shooters with a confident, almost maniacal, smile that seemed to say "I'm made for this. Are you?" It may have psyched some of them out as the Swedes missed their final three attempts and Labbé delivered the greatest victory in Canadian soccer history and the crowning achievement of her two decades with the national team. Labbé announced today she'll retire in the spring after the Canadian women complete their post-Olympics "Celebration Tour." Read more about her in this story by CBC Sports' Signa Butler. Read Labbé's own thoughts on her career in this first-person piece for CBC Sports.
Denis Shapovalov is working hard at the Australian Open. The 14th-seeded Canadian advanced to the third round of the men's tournament by surviving a gruelling five-setter vs. 54th-ranked Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea. Shapovalov's 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2 victory took nearly 4½ hours to complete. He needed almost 3½ hours to get past his first-round opponent, 51st-ranked Laslo Djere. Up next for Shapovalov is 23rd-seeded American Reilly Opelka. Canada's highest-seeded singles player, No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, can join Shapovalov in the third round tonight when he faces 50th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.
Willie O'Ree's number was retired by the Boston Bruins last night. The man some call "the Jackie Robinson of hockey" became the NHL's first Black player when he took the ice for the Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958 — almost 11 years after Robinson broke baseball's colour barrier. O'Ree, who was born in Fredericton, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. Now 86, he attended last night's ceremony virtually from his home in San Diego. Read more about O'Ree's life and career and what he meant to future Black players in this story by CBC Sports contributor Shireen Ahmed.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.