Max Parrot becomes unlikely XG champion
ASPEN, Colo. -- The sun had already dipped below the mountains on Saturday when Max Parrot finally sat down to bask in a glow he created.
Three hours earlier, Parrot -- a wiry, 19-year-old French Canadian from Bromont, Quebec -- upset two-time defending slopestyle champion Mark McMorris to win his second X Games gold medal in 17 hours, adding a Snowboard Slopestyle title to his Big Air crown from Friday night. McMorris, the Olympic favorite, crashed and broke a rib while trying to eclipse Parrot's run, which included the day's top rail section and back-to-back triple corks -- an unprecedented combination in a snowboard slopestyle competition.
The double-gold performance marked an improbable high point in Parrot's career, with a potential cherry waiting in Sochi, Russia, where, in two weeks, he will vie for the sport's first Olympic gold medal. He will enter that competition as the underdog, just as he did this week in Aspen. Which is bad news for his competition.
If there has been one consistent throughout Parrot's young career, it is that others never expect him to win.
"It's frustrating when someone doesn't believe in you," he said Saturday evening, sitting in the basement of a house rented by his clothing sponsor, O'Neill. "I have good confidence in myself, and I know that when I want something, I'm going to get it. I don't care how long it takes."
The trend began when he was eight. Parrot, the only son of a world-class Alpine ski-racing father, asked his parents to buy him a snowboard. They told him snowboarding was too dangerous and that if he wanted a board, he would have to pay for it himself. He mowed lawns for a year, saved $1,000 and bought a snowboard.
When he was 15, he told his parents that he wanted to forgo college once he finished high school and become a professional snowboarder.
"They were like, 'Are you crazy? A pro snowboarder doesn't make any money. There's no way you're going to stop school to become a snowboarder,'" Parrot recalled. "I was like, 'No, they make money!'"
Parrot spent the next two years reiterating his plan to his parents and his friends. He told them he would someday become the best snowboarder in the world. No one believed him. "You can't get there," his friends told him.
Parrot's reply: "Why can that guy get there and not me?"
Finally, his parents made a deal with him. If he graduated high school (which he did in 2012, despite missing 83 days of his 180-day senior year to train and compete), they agreed to support him for a season while he pursued a professional snowboarding career. At the end of that year, if he hadn't made enough progress, he would go to college -- and pay back whatever money they spent on his pursuit.
Parrot's career took off. He was named to the Canadian national team and earned invitations to premier events. His parents told him to forget about paying back the $23,000 they gave him to cover his expenses, but he did not want to feel indebted to them or anyone else. So he worked at a golf course during the summer and saved up his contest winnings, eventually paying back every penny last year.
He made his X Games debut in January 2013 in Aspen and finished second in Slopestyle to McMorris. One week prior, he landed his first triple cork and won the O'Neill Evolution big-air competition in Switzerland. Yet when the Canadian Olympic slopestyle team was named over the summer, only McMorris and Sebastien Toutant were guaranteed roster spots. The other two places would be determined by results this season.
Parrot felt slighted given his X Games silver medal last year. He opted not to re-sign with the national team and instead proceed on his own. (He works with a physical trainer as well as a trampoline coach but does not retain a snowboarding coach.) This winter, he finished as the top Canadian at two straight FIS World Cups to earn his spot for Sochi.
"I'm the kind of guy who is really determined and motivated," he said. "I don't need any coaches to tell me what to do, because I'm going to do it anyway. I like to do things by myself."
Parrot is also one of the few elite slopestyle competitors without a snowboard sponsor. Burton gives him boards but he does not have a contract or receive compensation like most pros.
No matter. Parrot eats obstacles for lunch. When he arrived in Aspen on Monday, he realized he had lost his passport one week before he was scheduled to fly to Russia for the Olympics. He spent Wednesday morning training for Slopestyle, flew to Denver at noon to fill out paperwork for a replacement passport at the Canadian consulate, then barely made his return flight to Aspen. One hour after he landed, he stuck a triple cork en route to a gold medal on the X Games Big Air jump.
Toutant, Parrot's closest friend on the circuit and a fellow French Canadian, was not surprised to see Parrot dominate this week. Parrot is an underdog at heart, after all. "All [underdogs] want is to show what they can do," Toutant said.
Still, his performance left his father, Alain, in tears back in Bromont, where he and Parrot's mother toasted their son on Saturday with champagne.
Parrot is still apprehensive about how his Olympic debut will unfold, largely due to the fact that he is a triple-cork master and he doubts the jumps in Sochi will be big enough to throw his signature tricks. He still believes he has work to do.
"I don't feel like I'm the best," he said. "You don't become the best snowboarder in 24 hours. I still have to prove myself."