A broken rib from a recent crash at the X Games had made things quite uncomfortable for the Canadian snowboard star. But a solid training run Tuesday changed his mindset and left him optimistic ahead of this week's slopestyle event at the Sochi Olympics.
"Battling through the pain yesterday was kind of frustrating and then I came up here today and it was just better — way better," McMorris said. "I was able to jump and start doing tricks again. My confidence level is back up and I feel like I'm in a good place for breaking my rib 10 days ago."
McMorris had been tabbed as a gold-medal favourite in the leadup to the Games after a strong run on the slopestyle circuit over the last few years. His crash at the X Games left things up in the air and created several big questions.
Would two weeks be enough time to recover? Could he return and be the same Mark McMorris?
If his big smile for the large scrum of reporters was any indication, McMorris should be just fine.
"Two days out before a non-elimination round, I couldn't be in a happier place," he said. "It's still broken, it's going to be painful and I know I'm going to have to ride through pain.
"But just to get a shot at trying to do what I want to do is the important part."
The 20-year-old Regina native skipped Monday's practice session and instead went for a casual ride around the mountain. McMorris has been medically cleared to compete but even a light run left him in more pain than expected.
He was thrilled that he noticed a marked improvement just 24 hours later.
McMorris credits his strong lower back muscles for helping to provide stability in the area. He notes the pain is the same whether he's landing a big jump or putting on his socks.
Canadian teammate Sebastien Toutant has dealt with similar injuries in the past and is confident McMorris will fight through the pain.
"When we ride there is so much pressure and you're on adrenaline," he said. "So you don't feel the pain at that point. You just go for it."
There could also be some positives to come from the injury.
The McMorris hype machine was in full swing ahead of the Games. Now he can shift away from the intensity of the pressure and simply focus on getting himself physically ready to perform.
"I think it took a lot of stress away because I stopped thinking about my competing and everything else," McMorris said. "I just started focusing on myself and healing and making sure that I was going to be ready.
"I feel less stressed actually but know I still have the same intentions here and I think everybody has the same intentions for me."
Canadian teammate Maxence Parrot moved into the spotlight when McMorris crashed out at the X Games. Parrot, from Bromont, Que., completed back-to-back triple corks to win gold.
He feels that he's the man to beat this week and it's a position he's comfortable with.
"It's a good feeling," Parrot said. "I know I've got a good run that could put me on the top. I'd just like to see if someone can beat that run."
Toutant, from L'Assomption, Que., could also be in the mix for a podium appearance. American Shaun White is another to competitor to watch as the sport makes its Olympic debut.
White suffered a minor left wrist injury Tuesday when he fell during a training run but doesn't expect it to affect his performance here. Top contender Torstein Horgmo of Norway had his plans dashed after breaking his collarbone in practice Monday.
Qualifying is set for Thursday. The semifinals and finals are on tap Saturday.
"Everyone has the tricks to win it," Toutant said. "It's all going to come down to who stays on their feet."
— With files from The Associated Press.
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