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Interview by Max Trudel Photos by Renrob Gabriel Jacques Age | 25 Place | L’Ange-Gardien, QC Sponsors | Bataleon snowboards, Dragon, Vans,...
THE OLYMPIC SHAKEDOWN
“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” They’re back, baby! Four years ago we watched the introduction of Slopestyle with a pessimistic eye. Any event with that much hype rarely delivers. Behind mountains of speculation and controversy, no one imagined the contest would rise to the occasion. We ate our words as we watched the best in the world ride at a level never thought possible. It proved anything can happen. With the introduction of big air, we’re destined to be bombarded with surprises and controversy. But what? And who? And why? This is the beauty of extreme sports reality television, folks. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Our Canadian squad headed into this wild one-off event is freakishly strong. They’re not just Canada’s best, they’re the best in the world. It didn’t happen in its own, the struggle for the throne is real. These riders have worked incredibly hard to get here, and so have their coaches at Canada Snowboard along with their individual surrounding support teams.
Before sending these soldiers off to spin for fancy necklaces, we riffed with those most likely to succeed to hear how they feel about the Olympic monstrosity and what they’re expecting from the scene surrounding this five-ring circus that always causes a stir. –Jesse Fox
Frontside 1080 [o] Crispin Cannon
Putting money on Mark McMorris is a wise investment. The undisputed heavyweight champ has come back strong after his horrific backcountry accident. There’s not much he can’t do and he’s as clutch as they come. So unless the McRib is back on the menu or the judges are eating from the same bunch of bananas they were in 2014, look for him to be standing tall on a couple podiums before they snuff out the torch.
It must be hard to treat the Olympics like it’s another contest, no?
Yeah, totally, and I think the mentality for me is trying not to change anything. More or less just be rested and well prepared to do your best. Identify what happens leading up to when you do your best. It’s hard not to care, because you do well there and it can change your life or change your financial situation big time. It’s pretty crazy how much corporate money goes into this one event. On an Olympic year, the amount of obligations I have and additional sponsors I get for the year are just crazy. You gotta get it, but you gotta stay true to your roots, and I still prioritize the people that really back snowboarding and help with snowboarding.
“I went to the Toronto Raptors’ game and got a standing ovation by the whole arena. None of those people really know what’s going down with snowboarding, but they knew that I won an Olympic medal.”
You’re a proud Canadian. Do you get wrapped up in Canadian pride when riding on the world stage?
Totally. I’m definitely proud to be Canadian, and every time I do well at an event or whatever, I feel like a big support group of mine is Canadian. The difference with the Olympics is that everybody in the country is watching. I definitely feel the extra excitement to do my best. Put the country on your shoulders, you know? The last Olympics, I won the first Canadian medal of the games and it was crazy. I’ll never forget, I had to come home early because I had a bunch of meetings. I went to the Toronto Raptors’ game and got a standing ovation by the whole arena. None of those people really know what’s going down with snowboarding, but they knew that I won an Olympic medal, and they just love seeing Canadians win.
Nice. Are you looking forward to that energy again?
Yeah. I’m definitely looking forward to it and trying to do my best. I just really wanna do my best.
50-50 Transfer to Frontboard Sameway 270 [o] Chris Witwicki
Although the rankings list doesn’t reflect it, it’s this editor’s humble opinion that Seb Toutant is the most talented and well-rounded park rider on the planet. He was a scrub away from taking a medal in 2014, and at times he’s struggled with consistency and maybe making difficult rail tricks look too easy has worked to his disadvantage? Excuses aside, it should come as no surprise when he’s proudly wearing a few extra pieces of flare on his way home from Korea.
What are the key things that make the Olympics feel different?
From having the experience of going to Sochi, I think it’s the vibe and knowing that all of Canada is supporting you, everyone is watching it go down. Definitely, the Olympics opens a big door for snowboarding, so people can understand the sport a little better. I think it’s great. Some people hate on it a little, saying it would kill snowboarding or whatever. At the end, you like it or you don’t. A contest is a contest. And if a kid wants to start snowboarding because they saw it at the Olympics, you know, why not. I think it’s good for people to learn about what we do.
Does that get you hyped knowing that you have the support of a country or make you feel more pressure?
Definitely, there are some nerves. I’m confident, but I’ll get a little nervous, too. It’s a good nerve. It just makes you want to go do what you have to do. Once you send a few tricks, you feel that support, it just makes you want to go bigger. It’s great. To feel that amount of people watching you at that same time, it’s a really good feeling and I think it just generates more power to ride well as opposed to making me too nervous.
Sochi blew people away, I don’t know if they were expecting the course, the weather, everything to be so entertaining. What’s the ideal scenario for this event?
For sure, Sochi was definitely perfect for the weather. The course was insane. A lot of people were talking shit about it being too dangerous and all that. I think that was the media trying to take over with bad news. It was one of the best courses I’ve ridden. The best case scenario for Korea would be something similar to Sochi. Good weather, a good course that people can show their best on, and hopefully it’s a fair contest so we can really showcase what snowboarding is all about.
Hell, yeah. What are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited about doing the trip this year. It’s kind of cool to have two chances of winning medals with big air being included now. In Sochi, I spent literally one week at the Games. This time we’re going to be there the whole time. I’m going to have a lot of free time to check out different sports and really enjoy the Games. I’m looking forward to riding my best and I just hope everyone rides their best and whoever takes it really deserves it.
Cab 1260 [o] Chris Witwicki
Woooowee! If there was one man that was built for the introduction of Big Air it’s this Quad flipping dude right here. He’s got more medals than a Mr T costume party but you know he’d trade a baker’s dozen of them for a Big O gold. Will he stay on top during a top-to-bottom slope course? Will the Big Air kicker be big enough for the Quad to come out? We’ll know soon.
How are the Olympics different?
At X Games, there’re millions of people that will watch, but at the Olympics, it’s the whole world, so for sure it’s different. The ones watching the Olympics are more of the general population. I think it’s good for the sport because you can inspire more people to snowboard. But contest wise, I don’t see any difference.
You know, slopestyle wasn’t in the Olympics when I became a pro snowboarder. So, when I was a kid the Olympics weren’t really a dream for me. When they introduced slopestyle and now big air, for sure I was super stoked. It kind of became a dream, it’s just like a gift now.
Snowboarding is such an individual sport, do you feel like you’re riding for the country?
For me, I’m Canadian, and any contest I do, I feel like I ride for my country, so there’s no difference. Every contest I do, I do it for Canada, the Olympics doesn’t change that.
How do you handle the pressure?
Well, there’s definitely more pressure, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m just going to go out there and my goal will be to learn the run I have in mind and it will happen when it will happen.
What do you think is gonna go down?
I hope to see the best runs, just like we saw in Sochi. These were really progressive runs for snowboarding. Talking about riders, any one of them could win both big air and slopestyle, really. It’s going to be interesting to see that.
Backside 1260 [o] Chris Witwicki
So, Canada can only send four men to compete in slopestyle and big air, there’re six Canadians that could be going, how much of a grind was it to get a spot as one of the Top 4?
Insanely next level. I can’t even fathom how next level it is. There’re six of us that could potentially go and get medals. All of us are always a threat at big contests. Mark, Max, and Seb are on a whole other level. And then me, Mikey Ciccarelli and Darcy Sharpe all have been on international podiums, you know? It’s just insane that only four of us can go when in many finals six of us are in the Top 10. It’s a bummer but that’s the way the Olympics are.
What does getting to go to the games mean to you?
It’s pretty much been a major goal of mine since the day I heard that slopestyle was gonna be an Olympic sport. I’m really looking forward to going. It’s kinda trippy to be an Olympian, not many people get to experience that. I remember the nerves I had at Dew Tour, our last qualifying event, and it was insane. I’m so lucky and fortunate to even get to feel those kind of nerves, they can’t really be replicated. Whether I got to go or not, it was just such an experience trying to qualify. Thinking about it all the time, it was pretty heavy. I’m stoked it’s over and I couldn’t be happier to be going.
Is there a best-case scenario for the events and your performance?
Well, best-case scenario would be to go get a medal. That’d be insane. I’m really stoked to get to go with my girlfriend, Jamie (Anderson) too. That’s pretty crazy we both qualified on the same day an hour apart from each other. I’m really stoked and excited I’ll get to go with her, it’ll be so fun, such an experience. But I just wanna make the finals and put the best run I possibly can down, that’s my end goal.
What would you change about the Olympics?
It almost doesn’t represent the best of snowboarding because so many good dudes don’t get to go. They go through this insane qualifying criteria, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. That goes back to Mikey and Darcy too, I don’t even get how they can’t go. They’re some of the best snowboarders in the world, I just don’t get how they can’t go to what’s supposed to be the best contest. I’ve always looked up to the X Games a lot more because I feel like snowboarding wouldn’t be where it’s at without the X Games.
Backside 180 [o] Chris Witwicki
Brooke has been on the scene for awhile. She narrowly missed getting the call to Sochi in 2014, and has taken the last four years to acquire new tricks and confidently become more consistent while maintaining that precise style she’s known for. With 2017 podiums results in both slopestyle and big air, she’s a dark horse in the running for precious metals in both events.
What makes this event special? Or is it?
It’s on a way grander scale and there’s a lot more media and a lot more hype. It’s once every four years, so there’s a lot more pressure surrounding it. The fact that it’s every four years, especially as a snowboarder, you’ll get maybe two to three shots max at an Olympics if you have a really long career. The longevity of a snowboarder’s career is not as long.
You think you’ll feel that added pressure?
It’s hard to say. I’ve done some city big airs which have had way bigger crowds than I’d ever ridden in front before and I was able not to focus on it too much. But I think it’ll be really hard to ignore the fact that you’re at the Olympics when you’re at the Olympics.
What are you looking forward to?
I guess it’s something that a lot of relatives and family members relate to. They’ll understand it a bit more than the other things that I participate in. The Olympics is something that everyone knows what it is and everyone can understand. Even though they won’t necessarily understand what I’m doing when I’m out there. [Laughs]
Is there anything you’d change about how the Olympics have affected snowboarding?
It’s just so different and I think we’ve just accepted that it’s different. That’s what’s changed in competitive snowboarding. The year before, everyone’s super intense and on edge, and then the year after, it’s like everyone can kind of lay back and take it easy. Whereas before it was kind of gradual, and every year was its own year, whereas now it’s like you’re two years out of the Olympics, you’re three years out of the Olympics… I guess it just kinda revolves around it now.
Frontside 900 [o] Crispin Cannon
Laurie started snowboarding when she was only six years old. Over the last year, she’s been learning new tricks into an airbag jump in Quebec. And she hasn’t been afraid to take her lumps getting those tricks dialed on snow. She’s one of a few women spinning doubles and 1080s, but it all rides on putting it down when it counts. With a few first-place finishes last year in slope, and a couple of kicker killers in her repertoire, we could easily see her on podiums before the end of it all.
This is your first Olympics, are you anticipating added pressure?
A little bit, but I can say that I’m good at dealing with pressure. Except when I’m at home, I just can’t put it together when I’m in Quebec. For some reason, I’m worried about my parents down at the bottom: Are they doing okay? I don’t know… it’s all my family, friends, and everyone. It is different.
Right now I don’t see it as a huge contest. I see it as a normal contest. It is going to be the same people that I normally compete against, so I think the only difference will be the coverage and attention.
How have the Olympics changed snowboarding?
Progression. I’ve progressed a lot. I don’t know if it’s completely because of the Olympics. I think women are just starting to really push themselves. It’s a competitive sport, but at the same time, there’s a good vibe, and all the girls are pushing each other. It’s nice.
Who do you think will be on the podium?
I don’t know, that’s a hard call because there are a lot of good women in snowboarding. For sure Jamie Anderson, Anna Gasser, Julia Marino, too, and it’s hard to call—it’s going to be a fun battle.
Frontside 360 [o] Chris Witwicki
She’s the most winningest Canadian woman in slope snowboarding. Medals and trophies from all the major events already sit comfortably on her mantel. And now she’s getting a second shot at the Big O. After stepping up to third place at the US Open at the end of last year, she’s proved again and again to be clutch, consistent and competitive. But other girls be getting good! Spencer will have to dig deep if she’s going to have any precious metals to declare on her way home.
You know snowboard contests, how are the Olympics different?
The Olympics are a different beast. Going into Sochi, I was really approaching it as just another snowboard contest and trying not to put extra pressure on it. When you’re there, the snowboarding is actually the most normal part of it. The media attention, and even the attention you get from your hometown, and your family, and your friends, it’s all so exaggerated. That was kind of the biggest thing for me was handling those external pressures that I don’t have at other contests. The thing is we’re individual athletes. When I’m at the X Games, or US Open, I’m there competing for myself, I don’t feel like I’m competing on behalf of Canada. At the Olympics, you’re competing with your country’s flag and you’re competing as part of a bigger team, which is super rare in snowboarding and the pride is a really cool thing that’s different.
What did you feel was stronger: the pressure or the support?
When I rode poorly in Sochi, I felt it as pressure, and it literally crushed me. Like, [laughs] I cried on national television; it was really embarrassing. But then afterwards the outpouring of support was incredible, it’s a really special and unique honour to be able to wear your country’s flag. And I think for an individual athlete to be a part of Team Canada, it’s so special… I didn’t really understand until I was apart of it.
There’s a legitimate side of snowboarding that believes snowboarding shouldn’t be in the Olympics, what are those people missing?
I see both sides of it, the Olympics are such a double-edged sword. The feeling that it creates for the host nation, the pride, being a spectator in Vancouver 2010 and London in 2012, it was such an incredible feeling, people were so happy, standing behind their athletes; it’s a very unique and special atmosphere that I never experienced anywhere else in my life. But then there’s this other side recognizing that it is so corrupt, so awful, and this giant money making machine that doesn’t care about the athletes or anyone else but themselves and how much money they make? So it’s kind of this weird thing where I love it but I also hate it at the same time. But I think, for the athletes, it is really a special thing.
What would you change about snowboarding’s involvement?
I think the biggest thing is FIS having the qualifying rights for our sport. Every year I see a little bit more of competitive snowboarding getting taken over by FIS, that really scares me. Because no matter what happens, they will never care about snowboarding the way they care about speed racing, and making competitive snowboarding bigger and better will never be their priority. All they care about is having the rights to the qualification for the Olympics. That’s really sad. I see competitive snowboarding being like surfing, it could have a proper tour. Even the most die-hard snowboarders can’t follow snowboarding. It’s impossible. I would love to see a day where snowboarding has its own professional tour and one that isn’t run by FIS. I would love to see it be run by snowboarders.