PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Sebastien Toutant soothed Canada’s wounded pride by winning the first Olympic men’s snowboarding big air gold medal on Saturday, taking the title with a combined score of 174.25 from his two best runs in the Pyeongchang Winter Games final.
American Kyle Mack, cheered on by U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, took the silver with 168.75 points, while Britain’s Billy Morgan won the bronze with 168.00.
Trump, a senior White House adviser, is in South Korea to lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. She met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday.
The gold will come as some welcome good news for Canadian sports fans, who are mourning a string of defeats in ice hockey and curling, sports they traditionally dominate at the Olympics.
Toutant collected his first Olympic medal with the victory after finishing 11th in the snowboarding slopestyle event. He also competed in the slopestyle in Sochi four years ago but did not make the podium.
Clearly, it’s not the taking part that counts for the 25-year-old.
“I’ve always been saying, ‘If you’re not first, you’re last’,” said Toutant.
“Today I knew I had the tricks and I knew I could’ve done well, I’m just so happy it’s gone my way. The format is three jumps, best two count. I put down my first two runs, I mean, that’s the best scenario you can ask for.”
Toutant flew under the radar coming into the final, partly because compatriots Mark McMorris and Max Parrot were favorites to take gold, and partly because he had been struggling with back problems.
“A couple of months ago I couldn’t even snowboard so it definitely feels great that I’m able to ride at my best and to put the tricks down,” he added.
Toutant, who said he had done a cab triple 1620 (84.75 points) on his first jump and a backside triple cork 1620 (89.50) on the second, was hopeful that big air’s Olympic debut would boost its popularity.
“Hopefully a lot of fans out there discovered a new passion, a new sport.”
Silver medalist Mack said he was delighted to have pulled off a ‘frontside bloody Dracula’ — a trick that can leave snowboarders with a smashed up mouth if they get it wrong.
“The whole reason I wanted to do snowboarding is to bring style into snowboarding, it’s the main thing I’ve always worked at,” he added.
Britain’s Morgan was as surprised as anyone with his bronze medal. He said he thought he had blown his chance when he failed to land his first jump.
“I never saw this moment coming. It blows my mind actually,” the 28-year-old said. “This is the good thing about the sport, you never know who’s going to win and that’s what makes it such a fun event to watch.”
New Zealander Carlos Garcia Knight, who topped the qualifying competition, failed to deliver in the final and finished a disappointing 11th of 12 riders.
Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Sudipto Ganguly