PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The words floated out of Max Parrot’s mouth while sitting with his parents one day and landed with the impact he fully expected.
Alain Parrot and Suzanne Noel spun around in their chairs immediately, as tends to happen when your son tells you he’s bailing on college to pursue professional snowboarding and, oh by the way, he’d like to use the money you’d set aside for his education to fund the whole deal.
“They were like, ‘No, you have to go to school,'” Parrot said.
It was the answer he knew was coming and that was fine. He had a plan. He always has a plan.
By stunning them with the proposition out of the blue, it opened the door to months of gentle negotiation. He stressed he wasn’t quitting high school or anything and they used his earnestness as leverage.
“They made a deal with me that I had to finish school with all the best classes, like high math and if I passed, I could have one year off,” Parrot said. “If I did well, then I could keep going.”
And if he didn’t, he was going to college anyway, only it would be on his own dime. No pressure or anything.
There’s a hint of wonder in his voice while the easygoing kid from Bromont, Quebec, Canada, tells the story, still kind of stunned at his own persuasiveness.
Of course, he can afford to laugh now that he’s one of the best slopestyle snowboarders on the planet. Now that he’s in South Korea at his second Olympics. Now that he’ll drop onto the tricky Phoenix Snow Park course on Sunday for the finals with a legitimate shot at gold and with mom and dad in the stands.
Parrot will go last in the 12-man final after topping qualifying on Saturday with a score of 87.36, less than a point ahead of Canadian teammate Mark McMorris. He was in the same spot in Sochi four years ago only to slip to fifth in the finals. Parrot was a 19-year-old kid back then, still a bit wide-eyed about the Olympic stage.
Now 23, he looked plenty comfortable while stomping his second run on Saturday, navigating the unorthodox rails atop the course with precise creativity before soaring through the chilly sky over the series of big air jumps at the end, the final one packing four twists in a leap that’s the equivalent of heaving yourself out of a four-story building.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was close on a day when four Canadians reached the final. While the podium remains very much up for grabs, it’s no surprise McMorris and Parrot are in the mix. They’ve spent the last few years developing something that’s as close to a rivalry as their particular discipline gets, though the bar is admittedly low in a sporting community where phrases like “my homies” and “my boys” are thrown around with unironic ease.
McMorris and Parrot, also considered the favorites when Big Air makes its Olympic debut later in the games, are friends. Still, in some ways they represent the push/pull of their sport, one in which there is a clear divide between those who view snowboarding as a method of personal expression and those who have no issue lining up one trick against the other and letting the judges sort it out.
To call McMorris a purist may be oversimplifying things, but he approaches his job with a thoughtful soulfulness. A bronze medalist in Sochi, McMorris is just as happy filming backcountry videos as he is dropping into a competition, an approach that carries risks of its own.
McMorris broke his jaw and his left arm, fractured his pelvis and ribs, ruptured his spleen and collapsed his left lung in a free-riding accident last March. He recovered in time to qualify for his second Olympic team, though he’s more focused on the journey than the destination.
Parrot takes a bit of a different approach. The snow melts in Quebec during the summer, forcing him to search for alternative methods to train. He’ll happily hop on a trampoline when necessary because “it’s the best way for me to keep learning.”
Another lesson awaits in the finals. The kid who gambled on his future has become one of the best competitive snowboarders in the world, one who needed to build a bigger storage unit to handle all the hardware he’s picked up since he bet on himself as a teenager and won.
College over this? No way.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org