Chris Corning’s strength, commitment make first X Games Aspen big air gold more attainable
In all his years working with elite athletes, including NFL and NHL players, Nathan Henry had not experienced what he went through at X Games Aspen this time last year.
Standing beside U.S. Snowboard coaches under the lights in the cold at Buttermilk Ski Area, the nerves overtook Henry. This was a situation where one of his athletes, snowboarder Chris Corning, was in a situation similar to a UFC fighter. Staring down the 300-foot-long run-in and 80-foot jump, to Henry, was like stepping foot in the Octagon, closing the cage door behind you and staring across the mat at a rabid opponent.
Then there’s another extreme sports analogy Henry compared it to, something with more of an Evel Knievel feel.
“When we are working on him, it’s like a Formula One race car and launching it off this jump,” said Henry, who’s now the director of athlete development for Dallas Stars Elite Hockey. “It’s watching and hoping he can land it.”
In the end, last year’s X Games big air final didn’t turn out how Henry and Corning hoped. Corning aggravated one of the major injuries he and Henry worked doggedly the summer before to heal: a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot. It was the latest health hiccup in a young career for the 20-year-old Silverthorne resident who has worked through setbacks.
But that’s where Henry comes in. In the summer of 2018, Corning drove several days a week, always arriving early, to work with Henry, then a coach for Landow Performance in Centennial. The coach soon learned Corning isn’t just any other snowboarder. His attention to detail is obsessive. His drive to be his best is rabid. And his athleticism, despite the foot injury and a hobbled back and hip, was alarmingly elite.
“The first time I had him on the ladder,” Henry said, “I was like, ‘Holy cow, this guy could have been a running back.’”
Corning chose snowboarding, a smart move, evidenced by back-to-back FIS Crystal Globe season titles. That said, Corning has yet to win an X Games Aspen medal, a goal he’ll work toward Friday at the men’s snowboard big air elimination round.
The X Games big air jam format is a beast — a 25-minute jump-till-you-drop endurance fest. With that in mind, Henry’s main focus with Corning has been to build his “trunk,” as Henry puts it, for the unnatural physics of loading up to huck a rotation and, perhaps more importantly, being able to stop a stuntman-like spin on a dime. The coach said he worked more on Corning’s trunk than any athlete before.
This past summer, Henry said, was about polishing the strength and muscular endurance he generated the summer prior.
Last month, Henry soaked in a crowning moment for Corning: winning the Visa Big Air at the SunTrust Park baseball stadium in Atlanta. He did so by landing his four-inversion, five-rotation quad-cork 1800.
Corning hopes for another this weekend in Aspen. Thursday’s developments made it a bit tougher, as Corning failed to qualify through to the slopestyle final after tweaking his knee when landing awkwardly on a flat portion of the course.
Whatever happens this weekend, Henry said even with all the strength and conditioning work, what sets Corning apart is between the ears.
“I haven’t met anyone,” Henry said, “who is more committed than he is.”
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