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Seven snowboarders make Olympic team

Comeback stories a theme among successful selections



Mark McMorris is arguably Canada's most famous snowboarder.

And last spring, he also suffered one of the sport's infamous crashes in the backcountry near Whistler.

Left with a laundry list of injuries including a fractured jaw, left arm, pelvis and ribs, collapsed left lung and ruptured spleen after last April's fall, the Regina native was no guarantee to attend the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea next month. But sure enough, at Canada Snowboard's official big air and slopestyle team unveiling on Jan. 9 at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, there he was alongside teammates Max Parrot, Tyler Nicholson, Sebastien Toutant, Spencer O'Brien, Brooke Voigt and Laurie Blouin.

"It feels really good. It's nice to be back on the Canadian team heading to the Olympics in a month's time. It's coming really quick and I'm feeling really good about it," he said. "I think I'm just really lucky to have a good team, a young body and determination to get back to snowboarding. I feel really good with my comeback and I'm confident and ready to roll."

After recovering and going through rehab, McMorris returned to snow in September testing things out. While he wasn't 100 per cent at the time, the 24-year-old certainly appreciated where he was.

"I realized I was good to compete by late October and then I went to China and it's been working out," he said. "It was pretty crazy in the sense that my body maybe had to do a few more weeks in the gym.

"I had to do a commercial thing in New Zealand, so just getting to ride around, even just taking it super easy was pretty spectacular after thinking back to where I was.

"It was a little bit scary. There was definitely a mental recovery, too."

McMorris explained there were times it was difficult to focus on rehab, but with the chance to improve on his bronze-medal showing in Sochi, Russia in 2014, the hard work made a day like Tuesday worth it.

"I had to get back because I definitely didn't want to miss out on the Games. I had a great run-up to the last Games and a great run after the last Games. I just need to keep it rolling right into PyeongChang and hopefully get a couple medals," he said. "I hope my experience helps me this time. I feel pretty confident when I return to certain venues but it's a new venue so it's kind of trippy."

Another returnee is O'Brien, who will also look to boost her results in South Korea.

Entering Sochi as a medal contender, she placed 12th in slopestyle and was devastated afterward. But only two months before the Games, the Courtenay product was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which took roughly a year and a half to get under control.

"Leading into Sochi was really tough for me because the diagnosis was really fresh and I was really struggling to find medication that worked for me. Now I'm feeling really healthy and I'm feeling really great. I feel myself. I feel my age and I'm happy to say that that disease isn't really affecting my life on a day-to-day basis," she said. "I feel I can really perform at my best and I'm glad to put that behind me and be managing it well."

Heading into Russia, O'Brien said she was able to get up the hill and drop in, but with things more fully under control, she's much more confident going into South Korea.

"We did a bit of a Hail Mary to get me through Sochi just to get me through the Games because we didn't have the luxury of time but now I've worked closely with my doctors and listened to my body and found something that works really well for me," she said.

With 2014 being kind of a lost opportunity, O'Brien hopes to take that experience of getting the first Games under her belt while also going in under better circumstances.

"It means so much to me to get another chance at a medal. I feel like I didn't get to experience those Games to the fullest and didn't make the most of it. I'm looking forward to capitalizing on my position right now and really hope I bring that medal home to Canada," she said. "It's been an interesting couple years for me transitioning into more of a veteran role with the sport.

"Getting the win at Dew Tour a couple weeks ago felt really good. It reminds you that you've still got it and I have a lot more to give. I'm staying true to myself and using all that knowledge and experience to my benefit."

Newcomers also on the roster

While McMorris was a lock to make the team if healthy — he received a provisional nomination shortly after his crash — Tyler Nicholson of North Bay, Ont. knew he'd be battling for one of the remaining spots with a number of contending boarders.

"It's pretty cool. To be honest, I thought it was pretty far-fetched a couple years ago just because the Canadian team is so strong with Mark and Max and Seb and Darcy (Sharpe) and Mikey (Ciccarelli). Max Eberhard was in there. I was like 'Damn, that's such a talented group of snowboarders and to be in the top four of that was pretty far-fetched,'" he said. "I just tried to take it contest by contest and shred my best."

Nicholson pushed himself with landing a spot in mind, but was worried he may have lost his shot after tearing his ACL in April.

"I had some good results as soon as the team selection started last January and then I blew my knee in April," the 22-year-old said. "The last nine months, I've been trying to get as strong as I could. I've been shredding a lot lately and it feels awesome.

"There wasn't a moment I felt I had it locked down at all... They could have easily bumped me off."

Nicholson said he didn't exactly receive positive news from medical staff, but buckled down with a chip on his shoulder and made his dream a reality.

"(Our team doctor) told me there was no possible way I'll go (to the Games)," he said. "I just thought 'Whatever. People tell people bad news all the time and I'll just go in and prove them wrong.'"

Nicholson said about a month into his rehab, he had some doubts when his knee didn't seem to be healing at an encouraging rate, but after keeping with it, eventually felt better.

"It was definitely a bumpy, hilly road," he said.

Brooke Voigt, also a first-time Olympian, was thrilled to crack the squad and will look to represent Canada well on the world stage after going through the year-long audition process.

"It's a wave of relief for everyone. It's a big, long process and it feels great, feels pretty official," she said.

As the 24-year-old Fort McMurray, Alta. product went through each competition, she felt stronger and stronger each time.

"I've felt the best I've felt on my board in a long time in the qualification process," she said. "I feel I learned a little something from each event and just took that on to the next and here we are."

The 2018 Games run from Feb. 9 to 25.