Opinion | Max Parrot lands bronze but actor-turned-snowboarder Su Yiming takes big air spotlight

BEIJING—A star is born. Ta-da.

Well, actually, this star was born 18 years ago, minus three days.

But Su Yiming, a precocious Chinese teenager already into his second career, truly exploded with supernova brilliance on Tuesday, sassy gold in snowboard big air.

First gold ever won by the host country in this sport. Second medal in a week for Su, to go with his slopestyle silver. Surely nobody at these Olympics is having a more gleeful time than the ever-smiling, constantly laughing kid who’s got pubescent girls swooning — rather like Justin Bieber, his fave singer — and their parents beaming with national pride.

Among Su’s admirers is Canadian Max Parrot, who became a double-medalist himself, bronze in big air — it was very nearly silver until the last rider of the day surpassed him on the judged score with a go-big-or-go-home trick — after bagging gold on Monday in slopestyle, managing to stay just clear of Su in the teen’s Olympic debut appearance.

“Su, two years ago I didn’t even know him.”

And it’s a pretty tight fraternity, these daredevils of the frozen slope-ramp sport, first generation pioneers who’ve been pushing big air farther and higher and steeper.

The course in Shougang, in west Beijing, is the first permanent big air facility in the world, planted against a dramatic backdrop of post-industrial chic, adjacent to decommissioned giant furnaces and cooling towers, what was once the Capital Steel Company, one of China’s biggest steel manufacturing sites — a huge source of pride for the citizenry — and also responsible for disgorging some 18,000 tons of air pollutants into the sky every year, about 20 per cent of the dangerous particles that give that city some of the worst air quality on the planet.

It’s been relocated. What’s left behind is this hulking, quasi-dystopian landscape, not repurposed for winter fun and competition. Way gnarly.

Anyway, there was Parrot, the 27-year-old from Bromont, Que., at the top of the hill, after the medals had been sorted out — China, Norway, Canada — and yakking with Su, the former child actor who only joined the World Cup snowboarding circuit a couple of years ago, though he’s been on the board since, oh, age three.

“At the end of the podium, I had a little talk with him and he told me he’s been looking up to me in the past three years. I’m one of his idols, which was shocking for sure. But he told me I was the reason why he pushed so hard this past year. And I said, after that (ride), ‘You’re gonna make me push more.’ ”

Clever little bugger, that Su. Same adoring song-and-dance he’d performer earlier for Mark McMorris, the nu plus hot-damn snowboarder from the flatlands of Saskatchewan who picked up a third Olympics bronze on Monday but couldn’t nail the humongous tricks he needed on Tuesday, finishing in 10th place.

We’ll get back to him. We’ll get back to Parrot too.

But first, let Su take centre stage, and his bows. Already a prodigy of nation-wide renown as a child actor — drew critical acclaim for his performance in an action movie, “The Taking of Tiger Mountain,” as well as TV features — he dropped films for snowboarding, his true passion. McMorris remembers him as a kidlet hanging around him when the Canadian made trips to China, promoting the sport.

“I have many different dreams but today’s gold medal is the biggest dream I have ever had since I was young,” said Su.

Since he was young. Because he’s a long in the tooth teenager now?

“I had to give up acting because I needed to focus completely.”

At four.

“Whether it’s snowboarding or acting, I will have many different life goals in the future,” Su continued, and this was after he’d had an emotional reunion with his parents, who were in the stands. They hadn’t seen their son in some six months, because he’d been training out of the country.

“I have many ideas and I always tried my best to let everyone see a more multi-faceted me.”

He’s 17 — for a few days longer at least — and he really talks this way. Yikes.

“I also want everyone to know that not only can I do one thing well, but I can do my best in all my favourite fields.”

Su, announcing his big kahuna arrival on this 525-foot course, with its 168-foot vertical drop, had basically sewed up gold with his first two jumps — top two scores out of three runs are added together — with a pair of technically challenging 1800s (five rotations) front-side and backside. His third run was a far more simple — classic — front-side 360 Indy and essentially a victory lap. The restricted audience went wild.

So, about Parrot, who was the top qualifier. He cost himself a silver by embracing a cautious strategy in his third run. He’d fallen on his first jump, then beautifully landed a near-flawless cab backside triple cork 1800 that earned 94 points; second-highest score of the day. In his final run, he put down a 1620 to score 76.25.

“I knew I would have to put down at least one 1800, which I’d done on the second run. But with the third round, I was a bit more strategic and I chose to get for a safety run, instead of going for gold because my second 1800 that I’ve been practicing this week, I have a little bit of trouble with it … it was risky.

“I went for the podium. I knew I wasn’t going to take the first place. But I got a 1620 down and my strategy worked out, got third place and I walk away with two medals.”

Gold and bronze, not too shabby.

“I’m just really proud on the consistency I’ve been having these Games. Today was the most insane finals we’ve ever seen, with so many 1800s.”

Seven of the riders landed it, in fact.

McMorris, the most decorated X-Games snowboarder in captivity, had caused a bit of a kerfuffle last week, asserting that his final slopestyle run should have been scored higher — he thought good enough for a silver at least — and judges had blown it by missing a knee grab by Parrot (he later apologized for the remarks), applauded his teammate.

“Max did great. To fall on his first run and come back and get two lands, really impressive. He should be super-stoked.”

For himself, McMorris earned a solid score of 80.50 on his first jump but fell on each of his next two 1800 attempts.

“Good score to build the house on,” he said of the first jump. “But I needed that 1800 or the quad to get into that 90 to 95 range, so I’m happy I went for it.”

But added, frankly: “Big Air doesn’t have my heart the way slopestyle does.”

So maybe his heart wasn’t quite so broken.


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