The slopestyle course at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou has received rave reviews for its difficulty and Great Wall-themed design. On Monday, its secular evocation, made of snow, served as the backdrop for some acrobatics from another era.
Twelve men’s snowboard slopestyle finalists took three turns each, navigating a series of tricky rails (and a snowy false roof meant to look like a sentry post) and three giant jumps, a can-you-top-this exhibition. Only their best score counted.
In the end, it was Max Parrot who took gold, followed by Su Yiming of China and Mark McMorris of Canada. It was the third consecutive Olympic slopestyle competition where McMorris won bronze.
“As my brother would say, ‘rose gold,'” McMorris said.
Parrott’s victory caps a return of cancer since the last Olympic Games. A 27-year-old Quebecer, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2018, 10 months after winning a silver medal in slopestyle at the Pyeongchang Games. He was declared cancer free in 2019.
“Exactly three years ago, on this particular date, I was lying in the hospital bed, undergoing 12 chemotherapy treatments,” he said after winning on Monday. “I had no more muscles, no more energy, no more cardio. Sometimes I wanted to quit, because it was so hard to get to the next morning. To be here three years later and win gold, this is completely crazy.
Su, 17, came to these Olympics as the biggest wildcard, a possible show stealer. Most Chinese snowboarders have not participated in international competitions for the past two years due to the pandemic. The team reappeared on the World Tour this winter with a full roster and a litany of awesome tricks.
McMorris remembered Su from past competitions and appearances in China since 2010.
“I see this little boy, he’s still here and he loves snowboarding more than anything and idolized me,” McMorris said. “And then, boom, this fall – he’s so good. He has become a man.
Su won the first big air competition of the season, in Colorado, then had the highest qualifying score in the Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.
It made him an instant celebrity in China – he was already known to some as a child actor, according to Chinese state media.
He had a solid first run in the final, then a spectacular second. With a forward flip from the guard post near the top of the course, he landed three big jumps. The last, an 1800 (five rotations), ended with Su raising his arms in the air, lifting the fans into the grandstand at their feet, flags waved.
It was a stunning sight throughout. Some of the attempted tricks had so many spins that they were hard to count without slow-motion replaying. After each race, the judges studied the moves, counted the rotations, assessed the style and spat out numbers that shook up the rankings.
Defending Olympic champion Red Gerard of the United States took the lead by landing a pair of 1620s (four and a half spins) sandwiched around a double-cork 1080, with his corkscrew off-axis spin. The judges scored it at 83.25 points.
It was the score others were chasing. Parrot passed him first, with a 90.96 on his second run, with three consecutive triple corks.
The real hunt was on.
McMorris, 28, was seeking his first Olympic gold medal. He won a bronze medal in the inaugural Olympic slopestyle competition at the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, with each performance hampered by injury.
He won the X Games in late January and thought he might have won the Olympics, eventually, after landing one last race that he thought was even better. This propelled Gerard to fourth place.
“I was kind of thinking gold or silver, to be honest,” McMorris said. “But I’m not going to let myself down.”