DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea — Kyle Mack didn’t have an 1800 or even a 1620 in his arsenal, and as it turned out, he wouldn’t need one. Five full midair rotations might work for some snowboarders, but Mack had something trickier in store for the big air finals. He brought a “Bloody Dracula” to the Olympics.
With a name that evokes the terror rightfully associated with a sport that involves flying the length of a basketball court, twirling and flipping as many times as possible, the Bloody Dracula vaulted the 20-year-old American snowboarder to the Olympic podium. Mack won silver in the first men’s big air competition the Winter Games have hosted, turning to a demanding trick that he’d never before landed.
The name for the trick is simple to understand — failing to land a Bloody Dracula will surely leave a snowboarder with a bloody face — but executing it is not. On his second run Saturday, Mack threw down a double-cork 1440 — four full rotations — a reliable and safe trick for the world’s top riders. But what distinguished Mack’s was the grab. The bloody Dracula is every bit as scary as it sounds and on Saturday it sent shivers through rest of the big air field.
“It was insane,” said Red Gerard, Mack’s American teammate who won gold last week in the slopestyle competition.
The Bloody Dracula requires the rider to aim the nose of the snowboard straight down at the snow below, while grabbing the back of the board behind him. This is done while twirling 15 to 20 feet in the air. It looks like something requiring a Hollywood special effects team, straight out of The Matrix.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Chris Corning, another U.S. teammate. “I know he tried it in practice, and he fell pretty hard.”
Mack says he actually tried the trick three or four times in practice — with no success. He couldn’t get the grab or he had to cut short a rotation. And forget about the landing.
“Took a couple good slams,” he said later. “Been slamming a lot in practice apparently. I’m pretty sore.”
His face was not bloodied, though, and he was coming close enough to executing the trick that he didn’t want to rule it out. Mack thought about it the night before the competition and discussed it with teammates, deciding the Olympics were the best time for the sport’s best tricks.
On Saturday morning at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre, he landed his first trick of the contest — a backside triple-cork 1440 with a Japan grab — which gave him the confidence he needed. Mack stood in fourth place and knew he needed something big to crack the top-three.
Gerard was headed down the ramp for his second run when Mack wished him luck. “He turned back to me and goes, ‘Bloody?’ ” Mack recalled with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna see it.’ ”
The trick was acrobatic in its complexity and elegant in its aesthetics. Mack nailed the landing, wowing the crowd — and the judges. They scored it a 86.75, which launched him into second place after two runs.
Mack appeared to be in disbelief. He immediately raised his hands and then grabbed his head, perhaps making sure it was still there.
“To land it in the second run, was mind-blowing,” he said. “It blew me away more than anything. After I rode away going down the landing, I was like, ‘Wow, I did it.’ ”
Big air is being held in the Olympics for the first time, but it’s been a staple of the X-Games. Unlike slopestyle, which is a snow-packed obstacle course of sorts, featuring several rails and jumps, the big air event boils down to a single trick. The bigger, the bolder — the better.
The contest is determined by combining the two best scores from the three-run finals, which meant Mack’s score wasn’t necessarily safe. The Olympic field was stacked. Canada alone had three podium favorites — Max Parrott, Mark McMorris and Sebastien Toutant. Plus, Norway’s Torgeir Bergrem, Great Britain’s Billy Morgan, New Zealand’s Carlos Garcia Knight and Sweden’s Niklas Mattsson were all capable of throwing down huge tricks.
But seven of the 12 riders failed to land their third run — including Mack — and only Canada’s Toutant could top Mack’s combined score of 168.75 from his first two runs. Morgan took the bronze with a 168.00 mark, just a hair away from silver.
“This is, if you watch, some of the hardest tricks that have ever been done on snowboards,” Mack said, “I definitely think people were going for the gold, wanted to go for the win. If people would’ve put down the tricks they could’ve, it would’ve been a totally different podium.”
Competing with Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Trump, watching from the stands — and drawing the attention of many of the television cameras stationed down below — the Americans had a couple of other strong shots at the big air podium. But Corning settled for fourth and Gerard fifth.
Some of the other riders might have bigger tricks with more spins, but the judges recognized the technical difficulty involved in the Bloody Dracula, and Mack showed that a pair of 1440s could be just as tricky — and rewarding — as a trick with more rotations.
Rewarding a Bloody Dracula is a statement for the sport. Yes, big air is about going big, but corks and spins are only part of the equation. The fact that Mack and his Bloody Dracula are now silver medalists gives a peek into what the future could look like for the Olympics’ newest event.
“The whole reason I wanted to do it was for snowboarding,” Mack said. “Bringing style into snowboarding is kind of the main thing I’ve always worked on.”
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