McMorris returns to win X Games Aspen slopestyle gold, edges Kleveland
Canadian star missed X Games last year because of COVID-19
A year after missing X Games Aspen because of a positive COVID-19 test, Mark McMorris returned to Buttermilk Ski Area on Saturday and did what he’s done for so many years prior — win.
The Canadian superstar held off Norway’s Marcus Kleveland and Sweden’s Sven Thorgren to win the men’s slopestyle snowboard final for his 21st career Winter X Games medal. Tahoe rider Jamie Anderson also has 21 medals after taking silver in Saturday’s women’s big air snowboard final, which is a Winter X Games record.
“He bumped ahead of me and I cleaned up the same run I got into first with and they ended up pushing me back up,” McMorris said of his battle with Kleveland. “I guess I learned that execution is very, very key and doing your tricks super clean and making them look easy. Just showing control is really big. I just hope I can ride like this in a couple of weeks at the (Olympic) Games, because I’m feeling good and it’s a momentum builder.”
Finishing just off the podium with his back-to-back 1620s was Silverthorne’s Red Gerard, who heads to Beijing next month looking to defend his 2018 Olympic gold in slopestyle. Only 21 and already one of the world’s most accomplished and recognizable slopestyle snowboarders, Gerard has struggled over the years at X Games. He only has a single medal at ESPN’s signature winter event, a slopestyle bronze from 2020.
Behind Gerard, Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas was fifth, Canada’s Darcy Sharpe sixth, Canada’s Max Parrot seventh, Norway’s Stale Sandbech eighth, Norway’s Mons Roisland ninth and California’s Dusty Henricksen 10th. Henricksen was the reigning X Games slopestyle champion after an impressive rookie campaign in 2021.
Saturday’s slopestyle contest came down to the final runs, with the leaderboard going through a lot of shuffling as time ticked down. Kleveland took the lead with a run that finished with an impressive 1800, but McMorris, who was the second-to-last to start behind only Henricksen, moved back into first with a run that included a pair of 1620s and a 1440 on the jump section.
“The level of riding today was just through the roof,” Kleveland said. “Mark was doing three triples in a row. It was just a gnarly contest. But I’m glad I made my run on the fourth go and bumped into silver. So I couldn’t be more happy.”
Kleveland’s silver was arguably the worst part of his week at X Games. He started it off by winning snowboard knuckle huck — a contest he is largely the inspiration for — and finished it by winning Saturday night’s snowboard big air final for the second year in a row.
Parrot won silver and Rinnekangas bronze, while McMorris was just off the big air podium in fourth. Colorado’s Chris Corning finished last among the eight big air riders, pulling out of the contest after three of the five runs.
Saturday’s slopestyle contest — and even big air — was likely just a taste of what to expect next month at the Olympics. McMorris is the two-time reigning Olympic bronze medalist in slopestyle, an Olympic gold about the only thing missing from his resume.
While many stars opted out of competing at X Games this week to rest and train for the Beijing Games — although one could argue men’s slopestyle snowboarding was an exception — McMorris never thought about sitting out, especially after missing last year’s event in Aspen.
“I figured it’s like, control the controllable, keep a tight bubble, stay with your crew,” McMorris said about coming to X Games and staying healthy before heading to China, where COVID-19 restrictions will be as harsh as anywhere on the planet. “I missed it last year. I’ve done it leading up to every other Olympics. Yes, it’s a little sketchy because there’s a crowd, but you don’t need to be interacting with it. … This is a huge thing for us, too. I didn’t doubt it, no. I was always going to come. I had to. This is our Super Bowl.”
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