Mark McMorris Wins The Duel Over Shaun White
ASPEN, Colo. -- Mark McMorris didn't want to leave. Or, more accurately, he couldn't leave. Every time he picked up his snowboard and tried to walk out of the X Games media tent, someone was waiting with another question, another camera and in many cases, another hug.
"We need to get him out of here," an overeager media handler said.
But even after McMorris finally managed to escape the tent and began heading back toward his friends, another group of strangers stopped him, including a young man sitting in a wheelchair. He wanted a photo. So McMorris leaned in, put his arm around the young man and smiled. The boy glowed. And again McMorris began walking away.
If any of this bothered the 19-year-old snowboarder, you wouldn't have known it. And that's a good thing. Because if he keeps snowboarding like he did here on Saturday afternoon, the mob scenes are only going to grow.
His Snowboard Slopestyle showdown with Shaun White had been hyped for weeks. Reporters and writers scoped out practices, keeping track of who did and who didn't land the uber-challenging triple cork. And they all wrote stories -- ESPN.com included -- posing the question as to whether or not Saturday would be the day in which snowboarding's king would be humbled.
Early in the week, when some shaky video footage surfaced suggesting that White had perfected the move that consists of three twists and four rotations, the curiosity only intensified. It grew even more when White and McMorris both landed triple corks in practice.
But for all that talk, all that airtime, all that attention, when the show began on Saturday afternoon, the result was a dud, at least if you like drama. White, the millionaire with his own flavor of chewing gum, the guy who built a career on seemingly always sticking his landings, fell twice. And McMorris, the kid who grew up in the Canadian plains, needed just one run to land his triple and earn a 94.66, a mark that no one would top for the remainder of the competition.
One run and it was over. Even more impressive was that McMorris' performance came less than 12 hours after he had left Buttermilk Mountain on Friday night following an emotionally draining Big Air final. In that competition, McMorris turned in a 48 out of 50 in his final run to tie for the best overall score of 94, earning him a silver medal.
On Saturday morning, McMorris said he struggled a bit in practice, falling on a few of his triple cork attempts. But when the fans filled in, the music came on and his performance mattered most, McMorris delivered.
"I couldn't sleep last night," McMorris said. "So many things were running through my head. That was insane."
The disappointing showdown was eerily reminiscent of the challenge another Olympic sports star faced this past summer in London. Like White, Michael Phelps is unquestionably the greatest athlete his sport has ever seen. But at the Summer Games, a laid-back Ryan Lochte wanted nothing more than to beat the legend. In the opening event of the London Games, the grueling 400-meter individual medley, Phelps barely qualified for the final, just like White did for the Slopestyle event. In the final, Lochte beat Phelps by four seconds, and the legend didn't even make the medal podium.
On Saturday here in Aspen, White's high score of 71 placed him fifth and another legend failed to reach the podium. White's final-round score of 14 was tied for the second-lowest in the competition.
"I guess it just wasn't his day," McMorris said. "But I'm sure he'll be knocking on the door soon."
McMorris didn't need his final run to win gold. But just like White did in last year's SuperPipe final, the teenager put on a show for the thousands of snowboard nuts bundled at the base of the mountain. As DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" blasted from the speakers, McMorris slid down the Buttermilk course almost flawlessly, adding a cab double cork 1260 to his last run, bumping his score to a near-perfect 98, the highest score ever recorded in an X Games Slopestyle competition.
Watching it all from the base of the mountain was White. When it was over, he walked over to McMorris and gave him a congratulatory handshake before hopping onto a snowmobile and escaping to the other side of the mountain. White will have another chance for X Games gold in Sunday night's SuperPipe final, his strongest competition.
As for McMorris, the win is his second straight X Games Aspen gold in Slopestyle. And it certainly makes him the gold medal favorite heading to Sochi for next year's Winter Olympics.
"I'm just glad it's over," McMorris said with a smile. "I really wanted this one."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.