VANCOUVER — Despite being in hospital with serious injuries suffered in a backcountry accident over the weekend, snowboard star Mark McMorris was provisionally nominated to Canada‘s team for the 2018 Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old, who had a dominant comeback season following a gruesome leg injury last winter, had to be airlifted to Vancouver after going off a jump and crashing into some trees near Whistler, B.C., on Saturday.
McMorris suffered breaks to his jaw and left arm, a ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.
The Regina native underwent two separate surgeries to control bleeding and repair the injuries to his jaw and arm.
Max Parrot of Bromont, Que., was also provisionally nominated to Canada’s 2018 Olympic team on Tuesday.
"It’s really unfortunate what happend to Mark," Parrot said during a news conference Tuesday. "I heard the news yesterday. Crazy that he had another accident this year after last year’s incident. He’s really not lucky."
Parrot said snowboarders are well aware of the risks they’re taking.
"We’re practising an extreme sport," he said. "But there’s not much you can do against a tree."
Parrot said last week before McMorris was injured that there’s a strong camaraderie among snowboarders.
"We’re all friends. We all ride together. We travel together," the 22-year-old said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "It’s really friendly."
While there is no timetable for McMorris’ recovery, Canada Snowboard executive director Patrick Jarvis said the Olympic bronze medallist will have to show he’s healthy before fully securing his spot for the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that begin Feb. 9, 2018.
"What it means for Mark is that based on his recovery and his rehabilitation … is his own desire and motivation to make the team next year," Jarvis said in a phone interview on Monday. "He would have to prove a return-to-competition readiness to ensure that he’s comfortable riding again, that he’s back to the level of prowess that he’s used to.
"All fingers crossed and we would certainly hope that Mark is able to do that. Certainly a little too early to speculate whether that will be probable or whether it’s still just in the realm of possible."
While they have been provisionally nominated for the 2018 Games through their standout performances this season, Parrot and McMorris — if he’s healthy — will still have to meet a minimum performance standard at an eligible event during the 2017-18 World Cup season to secure their spots. Their nominations are also subject to approval by the Canadian Olympic Committee and the final allocation of Olympic quota spots.
McMorris won bronze in slopestyle snowboarding’s Olympic debut in 2014 despite competing with broken ribs. Parrot, meanwhile, wound up fifth.
"It was a little bummer not to hop on a podium," Parrot said last week. "I was happy with my riding. If at the end of the day you tell yourself you did your best, that’s all that matters."
McMorris, should he recover in time, and Parrot are considered strong medal contenders heading into 2018, especially with the big air event now included alongside slopestyle.
In big air, snowboarders launch themselves off massive jumps in order to complete their tricks, while slopestyle involves competitors going down a course that includes a number of obstacles.
"It’s really cool we have big air this time," said Parrot. "It’s another great chance for us to inspire more people to get into snowboarding."
McMorris won three X Games medals this season along with two World Cup Crystal Globes, one for big air and another as the overall champion.
His banner campaign came on the heels of another serious injury suffered in February 2016 when he caught an edge on a landing at an event in Los Angeles.
McMorris — who has 14 combined X Games medals in his career, including five in big air — fractured his right femur and had a metal rod surgically implanted in his thigh.
Parrot won 10 medals in 15 events this season, and has six X Games podium finishes, with three golds and two silvers in big air.
"We’re used to all that pressure, all that media (at the Olympics)," he said. "It’s kind of like X Games. You get down the course and there’s like 50 cameras.
"The difference is at the Olympics the numbers on TV are much higher."
Parrot’s early nomination to the Canadian team for 2018 lifts a weight off his shoulders after he qualified just two weeks before the Games in Sochi, Russia, three years ago.
"It’s a little stress relief, for sure," he said. "Now I can just take that out of my head and concentrate on my training this summer."
For now, he’s thinking about his friend and teammate.
"I know he’s in good hands at the hospital in Vancouver," Parrot said Tuesday. "I hope he’ll be back really soon."