Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. Between March and X Games Austin (June 5-8), XGames.com will roll out the top 20 firsts, including moments such as Travis Pastrana's groundbreaking double backflip and Shaun White's perfect SuperPipe score, and the stories behind them. Fans can vote on their favorite moment here.
"You can never underestimate what is possible in a good session with good friends on a good jump," says Mark McMorris, looking back on the night he stomped a backside triple cork 1440 in the X Games Aspen 2012 Snowboard Big Air final and made history by throwing and landing the first true triple cork in snowboard competition. "To do a trick like that and win the biggest contest in snowboarding is pretty crazy, but what I'll always remember about it is that it just felt like this great no-pressure session."
There's no better feeling than getting that reward of doing something new and innovative, of being the first when it counts, especially when you've been gearing up for it for a full year.
Pressure or no, expectations were high heading into the contest. Torstein Horgmo had attempted several triple corks and landed a straight triple flip to 180 the previous year, at X Games Aspen 2011, just a few months after video evidence of him landing the first triple cork back home in Norway surfaced in 2010. Though it wasn't a proper triple cork, Horgmo's huck in 2011 was the first triple landed at X Games. It was also enough to bump McMorris, then a 17 year-old X Games rookie with a lot to prove, to silver medal position.
McMorris knew that topping a podium with Horgmo in the game was going to take getting way outside of his comfort zone, and devoted the next year of his life to the cause.
"For X Games in 2012 everyone knew the triple cork was coming because by then everyone knew it could be done, and we both wanted to be the first to go and land it in the Big Air contest. Torstein has done so much for snowboarding, and we've always been huge motivators for each other," McMorris says, giving credit where credit is due. "We've always pushed each other, from the day we first met. Once double corks were starting to become stock tricks, that's when we started to wonder, 'Can we squeak another one in there?' He got there first, and after that it was on to see who could bring the triple cork to a competition."
Horgmo went for it, falling on his first three attempts. McMorris crashed on his first try but landed it on his second, spinning an astounding four full rotations with three off-axis flips and hanging on to the mute grab all the way around for good measure. Just breaking down the spin for the television audience was a dizzying mouthful for the X Games announcers, much less for a snowboarder to actually go out and land it. Still, McMorris insists the trick to the triple cork is mostly psychological.
"The hardest thing is just wrapping your brain around it," he says. "Trampolines and foam pits and airbags help you get there, but the first stage is you need to understand in your head how it's going to pan out. That's a whole lot of rotation, after all, and you need to become confident mentally because it can definitely be consequential if you don't."
McMorris appeared dazed after landing it, as if he couldn't quite believe he'd emerged from the whirlwind on his feet and without consequence. He still wasn't altogether sure about claiming it in his post-run interview at the time either, telling ESPN, "It was a triple cork, I guess, so I'm extremely happy."
In retrospect, he's says he's proud of the honor.
"It's one thing to win something and to win both Big Air and Slopestyle gold, like I did in 2012," he says. "That feeling is almost indescribable. But there's no better feeling than getting that reward of doing something new and innovative, of being the first when it counts, especially when you've been gearing up for it for a full year. It felt like a big portion of the snowboarding world was tuned in that night, so it was a special thing and kind of opened everyone's eyes to what is possible. Everyone went triple cork crazy after that."
Horgmo got his first true triple cork in competition that night, too, answering McMorris' backside 1440 with one of his own, in his fourth attempt, earning a perfect score and ultimately walking away with the silver medal behind McMorris.
"That trick was a huge stepping stone for both of us, and for everyone else," McMorris recalls. "It set the road for the next few years and became this trick that everyone at the top level needs to be able to do. The backside 1440 is still in my repertoire and I do it in any contest I can, but you never forget your first time. X Games has always been really good to me, and honestly that year really made my career."
Stepping stone, indeed. The following year McMorris brought the backside triple cork 1440 to his Slopestyle run at X Games Aspen 2013, winning another gold, and landed a Cab triple cork 1440 in the Big Air contest, enough for silver behind Horgmo's switch version of the backside triple cork 1440.
"The triple cork is almost like an everyday trick now for most of the top guys," McMorris says. By the time he made it to finals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games for Slopestyle's Olympic debut, a rock-solid run with two triple corks was only enough to win him the bronze medal.
"Progress is like that," McMorris says, shrugging it off. "There's always going to be something new, and that's what makes snowboarding exciting."