TORONTO – The victories are piling up and the spotlight is shining brighter than ever on Canada’s Mark McMorris.
Already a big star on the snowboard scene, the 19-year-old Regina native is now getting consistent mainstream media attention. There have been newspaper features, national television appearances, even a feature article in “Rolling Stone.”
The increased exposure is something McMorris embraces. He seems fully content with his position in the sport and appears ready for the hype that will only ramp up in the coming months.
The Winter Games are just over a year away and McMorris will be one of Canada’s best bets for a podium appearance. He’s primed for a run at gold in Sochi, where the slopestyle discipline will make its Olympic debut.
McMorris, who already has World Cup and Dew Tour victories on his resume, is coming off an impressive victory last weekend at the X Games. He was satisfied with his performance as a defending champion.
“This time everybody was watching and to go there and do it under pressure was really huge for me,” McMorris said. “It was kind of like a step towards the Olympics for me because I know that’s exactly what it’s going to be like.
“A lot of people are going to be looking for me to win.”
McMorris first tried snowboarding at age five when his mother took him to Lake Louise, Alta. He got his first snowboard two years later and was quickly hooked on the sport.
He honed his skills on a small local hill and his father soon built a drop-in ramp in their backyard, complete with a rail. McMorris joined a provincial team at age 12 and started making weekend trips to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
“I was so into it that I would watch every video and just watch these tricks and just learn them one by one by one by one,” he said Wednesday during a promotional swing through the city. “I was so motivated to do that.”
McMorris still has that passionate teenage spark, like someone keen to show you a crazy trick on the hill. He’ll use the word “cool” three times in a sentence. But he also has the steady focus of an experienced athlete.
He isn’t afraid of the big moment and doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by his competition, including snowboard heavyweights like American Shaun White.
McMorris is an innovator in slopestyle, where snowboarders perform tricks and jumps on their way down the hill. He landed the first backside triple cork 1440 nearly two years ago and is always trying to come up with creative moves to give him an edge.
“It happens from me feeding off riding with others,” he said. “I’ve just always been able to make it happen. I don’t know why but it just does.”
McMorris pulled off a cab double cork 1260 to win gold last weekend. His difficult tricks combined with a focus on clean runs, solid landings and good flow also help him get results.
“I feel like I’m at the top — I just do what I do and it works,” he said. “I try to block everybody out of my head and I’m not trying to beat one guy more than the next guy, but I am there to win.
“So I do the run that I feel like will win and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just trying to figure out a formula where it always works.”
McMorris was scheduled to arrive in Austria on Thursday to prepare for upcoming European events, including a World Cup stop and test event in Sochi next month.
“I try to just do what I’ve always done as if nothing has changed and snowboard for the reasons I started snowboarding,” he said.
“Because it’s really fun and I love it.”