HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
Just as Team Yukon’s snowboarders were ready to pack up the equipment and leave Ski Martock in Windsor, Nova Scotia, something unexpected happened.
After the qualification round for the halfpipe at the Canada Winter Games on Thursday, Yukon’s Max Melvin-McNutt was on the leaderboard in 13th, a spot out of the final, but a mistake had been made.
In actuality, he was in 12th, taking the last spot into the final, becoming the only team member to advance past qualifying.
“When the official results came out, it turns out they made an error,” said Yukon snowboard head coach Mary Binsted. “We were sitting there having lunch, and we did our due-diligence and checked the sheet, and it turns out he was in. It was a big turning point for the entire team.
“We were back in it and it really felt like a team accomplishment.”
Not only did Melvin-McNutt qualify, he rose to the occasion, made up ground, and finished in eighth.
“I was pretty stoked. I haven’t rode much halfpipe,” said the 16-year-old. “I was the underdog, especially compared to those guys in the final because a lot of them were really good.
“So when I found out I was in the final, I was just happy to be there.”
In his best of two runs in the finals, Melvin-McNutt had five “hits” (tricks performed while airborne), starting with a frontside indy-double poke, to a method, to a frontside 720 – landed for the first time in competition for Melvin-McNutt – to a switch 540, ending in a frontside 540.
Skills aside, it’s the eye of the tiger in him that gives Melvin-McNutt an edge in competition, said Binsted.
“He has this drive and determination; he’s really hungry to win. When he gets into a competition format, he wakes up and is really motivated and driven to do it. Some people get nervous and have poor performances in competition, for Max, he actually performs better.”
Joining Melvin-McNutt at the Games are four other Yukon boarders, all of whom finished near the bottom of the field.
Yukon’s Alexander Chisholme, a tall guy by halfpipe snowboarder standards, soared his way to 20th in qualifying.
“When Alexander sails off the lip, it’s quite amazing because he’s so big,” said Binsted. “It’s kind of like a jet plane going overhead while standing at the end of the runway.
“He’s come a long way this year. He doubled his amplitude and he now has three spins in his run. So he’s increased his bag of tricks.”
Yukon’s Thomas Mills, who won Snowboard Yukon’s Rail Jam competition over the holiday season, finished a couple spots back in 22nd.
“Thomas probably has the most style out of all the riders,” said Binsted. “Unfortunately he wasn’t able to land clean in his two runs today. Thomas was new to our team last year and he’s an amazingly talented athlete. His style is phenomenal, he just needs more time on his snowboard.”
Barely getting the OK by doctors to compete in time, having sustained an injury at the Alberta Provincial Championships two weeks ago, Yukon’s Kayla Hallonquist took 14th in the female division.
“Her big success was healing and getting back on her snowboard today,” said Binsted.
“We can barely recognize Kayla’s riding compared to last year at the Arctic Games; she has improved exponentially on her board. She’s getting grabs on every hit.”
Yukon’s newest member of the representative team, Lara Bellon, who is also a national level judoka, had to decide whether to compete on the slopes or on the mats. Having picked the former, Bellon rode her way to 16th.
“Lara is relatively new to the snowboarding scene, but we see a lot of potential in her,” said Binsted. “Just the progression we have seen over the training days here has been amazing.
“She started grabbing all her hits as well, which just started a couple of days ago.”
With the exception of Hallonquist, who has some remnants of her injury plaguing her, Yukon’s riders will be back on the slopes for the snowboardcross competition on Saturday.
“Boardercross is just fun for me,” said Melvin-McNutt. “I don’t train for it, I don’t really get stressed out about it unless if I’m at the gate about to go – then I want to win.
“For halfpipe, I’ll be thinking about it all the time – damn, I want to train for this, do well in this. I think about it all the time.”
Two weeks ago at the Alberta Provincial Freestyle Snowboard Championships held at Calgary Olympic Park, Melvin-McNutt finished sixth on the halfpipe, the highest of any Yukoner.
At the Arctic Winter Games last March, Melvin-McNutt was awarded the overall silver in the juvenile boys division, winning gold in the halfpipe, bronze in the snowboardcross, fourth in the slopestyle and fifth in the banked slalom.
If reaching the final wasn’t enough in itself, there was an added bonus.
“I got to be on TSN!” said Melvin-McNutt. “I was on live TV – it was like the X-Games.
“When you get to the bottom, you have to take off your bindings and stand facing the camera until you get your score.”
This week’s competition represents the first time snowboarding is an actual medal event at the Canada Games, instead of just a demonstration event like it was in the 2007 Games in Whitehorse.
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