PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — By the slimmest of margins, Mark McMorris avoided death in a backcountry snowboarding accident.
By the slimmest of margins, McMorris ended up with an Olympic bronze medal in the slopestyle Sunday instead of a gold.
“I probably shouldn’t be here,” McMorris said. “I need to pinch myself a little bit.”
Nearly a year ago , the Canadian snowboarder broke his arm, pelvis, jaw and ribs after a fall while filming in a remote area of British Columbia. His spleen also ruptured and his lung collapsed.
And yet there he was in the final of the Pyeongchang Games, right in the mix during a back-and-forth contest won by American teenager Red Gerard, with McMorris’ teammate Max Parrot taking silver. The three were separated by a scant 1.96 points.
McMorris may have finished third, but nobody will ever say he lost. This bronze goes with another he won four years earlier at the Sochi Games, while competing with a broken rib.
“I feel really good to be an Olympic medalist, pretty special to stay on this podium again after everything,” McMorris said. “It’s just a really progressive sport and not getting to participate that much in the last two years has been pretty tough.
“I’m really pumped to land the run that definitely was gold-medal worthy if there would’ve been a little less sketches here and there. But definitely still stoked to put it down.”
McMorris made some tiny mistakes on his second run, when he scored an 85.20. But momentarily, he was in first place.
Then, Gerard turned in a nearly flawless third and final run to take the lead with a score of 87.16. McMorris had a solid last run going, before falling on his final trick. Parrot, the final competitor in the event, took over silver with a safe run in the windy conditions.
No disappointment, though, for McMorris.
“It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re out here snowboarding and riding as good as you can,” McMorris said. “That’s what I’m up to. I’m stoked. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Think maybe he deserved a higher score on his second run, which included a backside triple 1620?
“The judging is out of your hands,” McMorris said. “Just try your best and that’s what I did. I was rewarded and really pumped.”
It’s the sort of let-things-roll-off-your-back mentality that comes from nearly losing his life.
He was working on a film project late last March, when the edge of his snowboard dug in too deep while he was taking off. He drifted left, before hitting a tree about 20 feet up. He tried to stay awake while his brother, Craig, got help.
As soon as the helicopter arrived and he was airlifted off the mountain, Mark McMorris shut his eyes and didn’t wake up again for two days. He underwent surgeries on his jaw, arm, spleen and lung.
When he awoke, he asked for a pen and some paper to write a simple note: Will I be able to snowboard again?
The answer: Yes.
That’s all he needed to hear. He steadily worked his way back to health. He won a Big Air World Cup event in Beijing in November and earned bronze at Winter X Games last month.
On a cold and breezy day at the Olympics, he earned another bronze. Really, though, the medal color didn’t matter.
“It was a pretty tough road in Sochi as well, but this has been maybe tougher,” McMorris said. “I probably shouldn’t be here or should have some permanent damage from what my accident entailed. Pretty stoked. It’s really cool.”