It was a third Olympic bronze for the 28-year-old Canadian rider, a fixture on the world circuit for a full decade and a man who no one – not one single person involved in the sport of snowboarding – has an unkind word for.
“Yup, I did shout that,” he told Olympics.com after the slopestyle competition ended with his Canadian teammate Max Parrot atop the podium. “but I'm extremely proud and honoured to be playing that role [three-time bronze winner], to have that sort of consistency and longevity in what people say is a young-man's sport.”
This kind of perspective and gratitude, has come to McMorris – a ten-time X Games champion – the hard way. Not only is he lucky to be winning medals of any colour, he’s lucky just to be here drawing breath and enjoying his sport and the way it allows him to feel: “the connection with Mother Earth and with nature…and moving in the elements.”
It’s part of the hard-knock lore of snowboarding that, eleven months before he won the second of his Olympic bronzes (his first came in Sochi in 2014 when he soldiered on with a broken rib) he suffered the kind of injuries most don’t walk away from. Riding with friends and his brother, Craig, in the Whistler backcountry, McMorris misjudged a take-off and hit a tree.
He was left with a shattered jaw, pelvic and rib fractures too. His spleen was punctured and one of his lungs had collapsed. He was pretty sure he was going to die en route, via emergency helicopter, to hospital in Vancouver.
“There’s still growing pains and with a lot of internal damage, it's a long road to recovery to feeling exactly how you once felt,” he said of his injuries – the kind that linger and ask questions of competitors, like McMorris, who are in the business of flying and taking huge risks.
“Ribs, when you break them, vertebrae when you break them, they heal, but they don't heal always the exact same as they once were," he added. "So it's learning to adapt and learning to move your body how you did once with the new circumstances.”
He’s learned all that. And how to cope with his limits too. As much was on display at the Genting Snow Park, in the Beijing 2022 men's slopestyle competition finals, when his huge performance was good enough for bronze and, to hear McMorris tell it, maybe even more.
“I had the run of the day,” he insisted after the event -- disappointed in the moment, sure, but also proud to have landed on the podium.
“Stay on your path,” continued McMorris, a constant innovator and trick creator -- always looking ahead. “And don’t get distracted by what other people are doing.
McMorris would be 32 when the Winter Games in 2026 come around again in Milano Cortina. Being a kind of elder statesman on the slopestyle and big air scene is not a role he shrinks away from.
Grand old man at 28
“I'm 11 years older than some of them [his competitors] and I just kind of go with the process,” said McMorris who must know how many of his competitors here in Beijing hold him up as an idol. “It's kind of insane to think about, but, you know, it's it's fun to play that role.”
The story of Mark McMorris, Olympic snowboarder, doesn’t have an end yet. If it finished today in the big air over Shougang with gold, silver, the familiar bronze – or no medal of any kind – what he’s done in (and for) the sport would keep him a legend for the ages.
But he's a competitor deep down in his bones, and he's here with one more shot at the elusive gold – all hinging on one trick, one run, one chance to send something outrageous that the judges simply can’t ignore. That’s exactly where the Canadian wants to be.
“If you get knocked down, get back up again,” he said after winning his latest bronze medal, and asked to consider the central theme of the Mark McMorris story. Make sure you're having the best time doing it and make sure you're pushing yourself and doing it for the right reasons – because you love it.”