PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) Sebastien Toutant kept waiting for the pain in his back to ease. For three months leading up to the Olympics, it didn’t.
Sure, the Canadian snowboarder could carve his way down the mountain with his friends. But he couldn’t twist. He couldn’t fly. And he certainly couldn’t land. Those are three important elements when you earn a living flinging yourself 50 feet into the air.
”That feeling, not knowing if it’s going to hurt or not, is terrible,” Toutant said.
It’s gone now. Euphoria will do that.
Barely three weeks after the back felt good enough for him to return to competition, Toutant soared to gold in the Olympic debut of men’s Big Air, hitting his first two jumps, then watching his total of 174.25 hold up as the big-name riders behind him came up just short in front of a rowdy crowd at Alpensia Ski Jumping Center that included Ivanka Trump.
The daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump took in the final as part of a whirlwind tour during the penultimate day of the Pyeongchang Games. Wearing a red ski suit with a blue knit USA cap, Trump joined Kim Jung-sook, wife of South Korean president Moon Jae-in, in the middle of the grandstand.
Once the din of Trump’s arrival died down – several TV crews in the mixed zone spent the competition with their cameras trained not on the snowboarders but on Trump’s traveling party – Toutant and his buddies did their best to put on a show.
The results were mixed, though not for a lack of trying. Toutant, silver medalist Kyle Mack of the United States and bronze medalist Billy Morgan of Britain were the only riders in the 12-man final to post two jumps over 80 during 90 minutes of spins and spills.
Red Gerard, who captured the first gold medal for the United States in Pyeongchang when he won the slopestyle event two weeks ago, finished fifth. Max Parrot, who earned silver in the slopestyle, topped qualifying and had a shot to catch Toutant with his final leap.
Rather than choose something safe, Parrot opted for a ”switch triple cork 1800,” basically three flips and five full rotations, one of the most aggressive jumps currently being done in competition. Parrot went too big and washed out, his chance at returning home to Canada with two medals gone.
”I know Big Air is my thing, I normally do very well in that,” Parrot said. ”For it’s a bummer concerning that.”
That feeling is familiar for the 25-year-old Toutant. Considered a snowboarder’s snowboarder, he’s spent most of his career splitting his time on boundary-pushing backcountry riding and flirting with the kind of success in competition that friends and countrymen Parrot and Mark McMorris enjoy regularly. He’s spent plenty of time on the podium, just never the top of it, until Saturday.
The lack of a victory never really bothered Toutant. He doesn’t compete to win as much as simply enjoy the process. There are riders out there who make conservative runs designed to score well even. Toutant is not one of them.
”I try to go for it,” Toutant said. ”I’m not the kind of rider to step back and just do a smaller tricks to just make sure to be on the podium,” Toutant said. ”Sometimes it does well and sometimes it doesn’t and today I definitely land two good tricks and that was enough to win.”
Mack missed out on the finals in slopestyle after struggling during both of his qualifying runs. The 20-year-old found a measure of redemption in Big Air. Focusing more on style than acrobatics, Mack drilled a ”front 1440 Bloody Dracula,” a grab that requires the rider to clench the tail of the snowboard in midair.
”I always thought it was such a sick trick and such a crazy grab,” Mack said.
One that helped Mack give the United States its seventh snowboarding medal in South Korea, nearly a third of the Americans’ entire medal count.
”We’re killing it right now,” Mack said. ”I’m super stoked on how we’ve all done with Chloe Kim, Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson. We have such a strong team right now that it’s so sweet and we’re all still so young, so we have so much time to progress and keep working. I expect to see all of us back here at the next one going strong.”
The Canadians, however, are gaining ground. Toutant’s triumph pushed Canada’s snowboarding medal total to four.
”We’re all about fun,” Toutant said. ”I had fun today. I was stressed crazy, but it’s all about fun. You’ve got to enjoy it.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org