Morison surprises himself

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:51 AM ET

When he left the tiny village of Burketon, northeast of Oshawa, last autumn for his first season on the World Cup snowboard tour Matt Morison had some modest goals.

Don't get homesick.

Don't look like a duffus.

And, don't break any vital body parts.

Oh, yeah, and if in between that stuff he could get into the Top 16, maybe even squeeze out a top-eight placing in one of his giant slalom races, he'd have been content. His coaches would've been pleased. His mom and pop proud.

"I certainly wasn't thinking I'd be stepping on any podiums," the 19-year-old national team rookie says from Stoneham, Que., where the final event on the World Cup tour will be held this weekend.

Never before has there been such a happy home-coming for our snowboarders after a winter of barn-storming across Europe.

The Snowboard Jamboree at the Stoneham Mountain resort features a World Cup Triple with finals in the parallel giant slalom, half pipe and snowboardcross. The Canadian team has been on a torrid streak: Through all three disciplines (Alpine, Snowboardcross and Halfpipe), it won five of the past six World Cup events.

One of those victories belongs to Morison, who after three trips to the podium this winter, admits life back home may never be quite the same again.

He got a taste during a quick visit last week: "I didn't have any idea what was happening back here at home. I guess people my parents hadn't heard from in years were calling. I went back to my home hill (Oshawa Ski Club in Kirby) to do some coaching and people were asking for my autograph. That never happened to me here before," Morison said. "I even got some fan mail from kids saying they looked up to me. How neat is that?"

Not bad for a guy who, a year ago, only got asked for his autograph when he pulled out a credit card.

Nobody is more surprised than Morison himself. "It has been awesome. No way did I anticipate a season like this ... it has been fun but way beyond anything I expected."

He caught the World Cup establishment -- not to mention himself -- by surprise in January with his first podium finish, a bronze, at Nendaz, Switzerland.

"I really came out of nowhere. I wasn't even on the map and a lot of the (other snowboarders) were saying, 'Where did this guy come from.' "

He was the first Canadian male other than four-time World Cup overall champion Jasey-Jay Anderson to finish on the podium in one of the alpine disciplines since his current coach, Mark Fawcett, was second in Chile in 2002.

Two weeks later, Feb. 9, he showed it wasn't a fluke, taking a silver in another parallel slalom in Shukolovo, Russia.

"When I got the podium in Switzerland it was like 'I can't believe I just did that!' " Morison said, "But I think it was also the time when I realized that, 'yeah, I can run with these guys.' "

That became evident Feb. 16 when he beat veteran Simon Schoch for the gold in Furano. After two podiums in the slalom it was the first time he'd placed higher than 12th in a giant slalom. Better yet, Morison's teammate, guiding light and 31-year-old team pioneer, Anderson, finished fourth.

"It," Fawcett said, "was the best day in eight years for men's alpine snowboarding."

A week later, Anderson would beat Morison and go on to win gold in Korea -- his first win in two years. Anderson had promised himself he'd retire if he didn't win this season. He may reconsider.

"I'm happy," Anderson said, "but I didn't expect it."

Of course, neither had his protege.

This has been a team full of surprises, and they're hoping for one more this weekend in Stoneham. Morison's parents, Cathy and Paul, will be there, along with friends and family.

"They're going to make signs and T-shirts. It's going to be awesome and I hope to be able to put on a show," Morison said. "Being in Europe the one thing I haven't had all year is a lot of people watching me. Now, I will."

Just one more lesson on the road to Vancouver 2010 is that with success comes pressure. Says Morison: "It's still just racing. I don't think it'll bother me." He may be right -- after all, nothing else has.


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