Mark McMorris said on Monday that his bronze medal was “a miracle” after the inspirational Canadian climbed onto the Olympic podium just 11 months on from a near-fatal snowboarding accident.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed McMorris’s “tenacity” and “courage” as the 24-year-old drew praise following his success in the slopestyle event at the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Sunday.
McMorris was fighting for his life in a medically induced coma in March 2017, after breaking 17 bones and suffering a collapsed lung and ruptured spleen when he slammed into a tree while out on his snowboard with friends.
He somehow survived and in his comeback to competition, a big air World Cup in Beijing in November, he triumphed.
Then on Sunday he added bronze to the one he won at Sochi four years ago to seal a stunning return from near-death.
“To land a good run and stand on the podium again, it definitely feels special,” said McMorris.
“It’s definitely a miracle and I’m really thankful.”
McMorris, raised on the flatlands of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, tends not to look too far ahead these days but admits that psychologically he is not over the traumatic events of 11 months ago.
“I was so close to not being able to snowboard again and nothing brings me the joy that snowboarding does,” he said.
“I just want to keep having success in competition and get back into the backcountry and face that fear again and enjoy that with my buddies.”
Within the snowboarding fraternity McMorris has long been well known, winning multiple X Games titles, but his recovery from his deathbed has brought him far greater fame now.
“It’s such a cool thing that people are backing the story, you can’t force that on people,” he said.
“At the time I wish it hadn’t happened, but now it’s so cool that so many people have reached out and said, ‘You’ve helped me through this part of my life’ or motivated me, or whatever it may be.
“I’m glad I can play that role and feel lucky to be in the position I’m in, being able to inspire others.”
American snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim had one thing on her mind after she nailed top score in Olympic halfpipe qualifying with a jaw-dropping display Monday – a well-deserved ice cream.
The high-flying 17-year-old was treated like a rock star by enthusiastic local fans because of her Korean heritage and confirmed her status as the gold medal favourite in Pyeongchang with a high total of 95.50 points.
China’s Liu Jiayu qualified second with 87.75 ahead of Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto (84.25).
“I want my ice cream!” screamed Kim after an acrobatic second run greeted with oohs and aahs by a packed crowd.
It might have been brutally cold and blustery, with a wind chill of minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4F), but Kim said: “I really like vanilla Swiss almond – but I’ll be okay with the mango sorbet.”
Looking forward to Tuesday’s final, Kim added: “I was really nervous but I’m always more nervous during qualis (qualifying) so tomorrow I can really focus on what I want to do.”
Long, bleached-blonde hair poking out from behind her visor, Kim was in a class of her own, executing a string of eye-popping spins and loop-the-loop tricks.
“I don’t even know what I did,” joked Kim, whose parents come from South Korea and who has been adopted by locals as one of their own.
“That second run felt perfect. I’ve been really trying to clean up all the little details and I think I did that so I’m really excited.”
Korean fans screaming her name jostled to take photos of Kim as she trudged to waiting journalists after her second run.
“This is the best scenario ever,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be out here and represent the US in the country my family came from.”
Dangerous gusts that caused havoc in the women’s slopestyle final and forced the postponement of the women’s giant slalom periodically sent puffs of snow swirling across the top of the halfpipe run.
But it had little effect on the effervescent Kim.
“The pipe’s been so good so I’m thankful the conditions have been so amazing,” smiled the four-time X Games champion, who might have challenged for gold in Sochi four years ago – if she hadn’t been too young to compete.
“My goal here was to land every run I do in the contest and I’ve landed two so far, so three to go!”
Despite tearing it up in qualifying Kim admitted she wasn’t sure whether her biggest fan – her Korea-based grandmother – had been in the crowd.
But she revealed the family matriarch would be rocking some trendy sports gear if and when she turns up.
“My grandma’s in Seoul – she might be here,” said Kim.
“But I gave her some stuff I got from the opening ceremony. I gave her some Nike gear and she was really excited – so grandma, stay warm for me!”
Vicious winds caused a string of crashes and complaints as America’s Jamie Anderson survived the chaos to clinch her second straight slopestyle snowboarding Olympic gold in treacherous conditions on Monday.
Nearly all the athletes – including Anderson – tumbled at some point at Pyeongchang’s frigid Phoenix Park, where strong winds forced Sunday’s qualifiers to be scrapped and also delayed the final for more than an hour on Monday.
The numerous falls – none of the athletes appeared to have been badly hurt – prompted grumbling that the final was allowed to take place at all.
It was just the latest event at the Games to be disrupted by the wind, with the prestigious men’s downhill skiing moved to Thursday after falling victim to the weather.
“So many people got hurt because of the wind already,” said Austrian snowboarder Anna Gasser, a day after 17-year-old Tess Coady, the youngest member of the Australian team in South Korea, was forced out after wrecking her left knee in training.
“Even yesterday, the practice we did in the morning was dangerous,” added Gasser after finishing 15th in the slopestyle.
Gasser called it “a lottery” and said: “I don’t think it was a fair competition and I’m a little disappointed in the organisation that they pulled through with it.
“From my point of view I think it was not a good show for women’s snowboarding.”
Britain’s Aimee Fuller, who finished down in 17th after crashing, branded them some of the toughest conditions she had competed in and said she had “no chance” of landing her last jump when she was caught by one strong gust.
“Conditions today were definitely a challenge. It was for sure not what I wanted, not what I expected, not what I dreamed of for my Olympic final,” said the 26-year-old, who was unhurt in the fall.
“There were huge gusts of wind – I’ve decided to call it the Pyeongchang Gust.”
Anderson, 27, became the first woman to win two Olympic snowboarding golds, despite briefly falling in her final run, with Laurie Blouin of Canada earning silver and Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi taking bronze.
But all the talk was about the wind, which coupled with the sub-zero temperatures made life tough for athletes and spectators.
In the build-up to competition, Britain’s Katie Ormerod and teenager Coady both suffered Games-ending injuries on the slopestyle course, which features high rails and huge jumps to negotiate in the swirling winds.
Coady ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), abruptly ending her first Olympics and leaving her facing several months on the sidelines.
She blamed the wind for the crash, writing on Instagram: “Well Olympics came to a screeching halt today for me… got picked up in the wind on the bottom jump in practice and my ACL was not a big fan!”
Ormerod was sidelined after breaking her heel in training — after earlier fracturing her wrist on the Pyeongchang course.