Q&A: Athletes - David Morris (AUS)
An aerials World Cup veteran since the 2008/09 season, 31-year-old David Morris (AUS) made a huge leap in form at just the right time, finishing the the 2013/14 World Cup season ranked second overall and taking the silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Immediately following the Games, however, Morris went on hiatus from the sport, at one point considering himself retired from aerials competition. However, after a little more time off and a little inspiration as those who he used to compete against thrived last season, he decided to return to World Cup competition this season. So far, that decision looks like a strong one, as Morris sits atop the standings after two events. We caught up with David Morris at his current training base in Val St. Come (CAN) and spoke with him about his hiatus and his return to the World Cup, the day he won Sochi silver, and how to be a social media expert.
FIS – Welcome back to the World Cup, David! How does it feel to be back and competing?
David Morris – Yeah, thank you! It feels good to be back. I like competing, but at first I wasn't sure whether or not it was a good move. During training it was like, 'Can I still do this?' I wasn't sure. I had a lot of self-pressure. I thought that everyone would be expecting big things from me, coming back after a year off and after winning an Olympic medal. But we put a lot of work in in the summer and then I showed up at the Beijing World Cup and switched into competition mode and landed some stuff and so far it's worked out pretty well.
But I think I got a bit lucky with the results in Beijing. Some people crashed or had bad days and that helped get the results for me. But, my actual performance I was pretty happy with. It went as we planned and I'm not sure I could have done much more. So I was happy with that.
I did miss competition. I missed being around the other athletes. We're a really cool bunch of people and I missed the atmosphere on the hill, messing around with everyone and having a really great time, watching people do amazing jumps. I love competing, I love the atmosphere of it, I love the pressure. The sport is exciting and I love being a part of it and being back to doing it again. I don't know how better to say it, it's just super cool to do it.
FIS – Take me through your performance at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games where you won the silver medal.
DM – Leading up to the Olympics we were just looking to peak at the right time, which obviously worked out. We had plan A, B, C, and D – if we do this jump and qualify first or second into the finals we'll follow this plan, and on down the list, so we had a plan for however it might have panned out.
Basically, for me, because I finished 13th in Vancouver 2010 and just missed out on the finals, I just wanted to make sure I made it into the finals, at the very least. I would have been content with that. Obviously, you want to go for more, but finals for me was what I wanted, which made qualifications the most stressful thing ever.
But once I got through that and I qualified tied for first, which was just perfect, that put us into plan A, knowing that I could watch everyone jump before me and all I would need is four people to make a mistake so I could downgrade my jump and save a better jump for later in the competition. And just before I went the fourth person made a mistake, so it was like, yep, I'll downgrade my jump, and I snuck through that round and saved both my quad jumps for the next round.
Each round I got through I just got to care less about the result, because every time I moved through I was getting a better result than I had initially prepared for. As soon as I got through to the top eight it was just like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm in the top eight. This is the coolest thing ever. If I crash and get eighth, that's great, if I land and get eighth, that's fine, too.' So it actually took all the pressure off.
And then suddenly I was in the top four with three of the most incredible jumpers in the world, and it was just like, if I come fourth right now I'm pretty pumped on that. And so the last round was the easiest because I just didn't mind. I was just happy to be there. And then we jumped and I'm not sure what happened but maybe the pressure got to a couple of the guys and I ended up with the silver. So it all worked out pretty well for me.
The men's final at Sochi 2014
FIS – So you have this amazing performance in Sochi and you get the silver medal – did you have a plan beforehand hat you would take the next year off, or was that a reaction to how things went at the Games?
DM – After Vancouver 2010 I had the same kind of reaction that I ended up having after Sochi, where you're at the Olympics and you're important for this week and then a month after it everyone's forgotten about you. That's for Australia, anyway, because we're not really a winter sports country. So to go from the huge high to the huge low, I wasn't really prepared for that. So I actually took time off after Vancouver, as well, to sort of get my head around the fact that I would have to wait for that feeling for another four years.
I knew that was going to happen again after Sochi, but in all honesty as soon as I had that medal in my hands, holding this big chunky piece of silver, just the coolest thing, I thought, you know, maybe I'll just retire. Because I could go out on this high note. So I told everyone I was going to take a year off, but I had retired in my brain for about six months.
I didn't plan on coming back. I was really happy with what I had done, personally for me, and for Australian aerials skiing and for promoting the sport for us and trying to bring some young guys into the program, because there's never been many boys joining up. But I sort of got bored of 'retirement' after a while, I guess. I was still messing around on the trampoline and stuff, and I heard all this news about how well some people were jumping, and I watched a couple competitions online and thought, 'Oh, I could have done well there.' It got to a point where I stopped thinking about why I stopped competing and instead started thinking, 'Well, why can't I go back?'
I've always enjoyed it, I am good at it, I miss all my friends who are on the World Cup – because we are all friends – and I thought, 'Why should I stop competing when all these things about it are so good?' So I decided to come back and give it another go. Basically I just changed my mind [laughing]. And now I'm glad I did because so far it's working out pretty well.
FIS – In that year off you published a book, you did public speaking engagements, you were doing lots of gymnastics – what do you think you got out of that change of pace and lifestyle?
DM – It was tricky because real life is very different to athlete life. It's very hard for athletes to settle down and not go anywhere for a while and not have the week-to-week excitement and the stress of traveling and stuff. I did enjoy it, the time away. I enjoy trying to motivate people, and I did heaps of presentations and I got a lot out of having the just the 'average' person hear the story and be amazed by what was just normal life for me. To be able to inspire kids especially to go out and try and make the most of what they've got, I get a lot out of that.
And the book was always something I had been working on. I started writing it basically the first year I got started in the sport, just in case something awesome happened at the end. And of course Sochi was the perfect finish for the book. But the point of the book really was just to tell a story and inspire people. Really that's all I've ever wanted to do, was leave a mark. I've always wanted to be remembered as more than just a result. I'd like to be remembered for meaning something and for helping people to be better.
FIS – Australia has a very strong tradition of ladies aerialists, but not so much on the men's side. You mentioned earlier that there are now some new young men in the Aussie aerials program. That sounds like a pretty good legacy to be building for you.
DM – Yeah, definitely. One of my first coaches, Jonathan Sweet, was the last guy to jump for Australia, maybe 20 something years ago. But since then there's just been no one. The girls have just been shredding it for us, getting all the results, getting all the fame, and they've lead the way for me. So I can't say I could have done it without them. They've got our team the funding and recognition and the right coaches and the right network of people, so I've sort of fed off what they've provided for me. Now I hope to continue to get good results and hopefully provide that to our up-and-comers – boys and girls.
We just need to be good role models to the next generation, girls and boys, Aussies and internationally, so they can see what the sport is and this is what the athletes are expected to be like. Which is, good people. And hopefully I can continue to do that.
FIS – You're very engaged on social media. How important is it for you to maintain a connection like that with fans and followers and other athletes?
DM – At first it was just for friends and family, but then people sort of started tuning into it more around Olympics time. People suddenly start following you, then. And I realized that people like the crashes and the funny stuff that I was posting and I just started really enjoying doing it, more as a hobby and not like as a task that though I had to do to keep people interested. Now I do it because we do interesting stuff all the time and it's fun to share it with people.
I get comments from people like, “Oh, your life is so cool!” But I'm like, your life is cool, too. Getting to go to your friends' birthday parties and getting to spend Christmas with your family is cool, too, and I like seeing those photos.
So yeah, social media is cool, and it gives me something to do on the days off. I like my videos and my photography, and if people like the stuff I'm putting out I'm very happy to share it with them.
David in the gym during his year off
FIS – Nice. So, as I speak to you now, you're back competing and you're leading the World Cup after two events. Next season is the Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle World Ski Championships and after that it's the PyeongChange 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Are you looking that far down the line, or just taking it one competition at a time this season?
DM – I've come back to competition with the goal of going right through to Korea. Aerials isn't really a sport that you just turn up and do it for fun. So my plan is to compete at PyeongChang 2018 and hopefully match, if not beat, my Sochi performance. I'm going to go for the gold. But with that in mind, I'm taking it a month at a time, because any jump could be your last jump, you know, due to a bad crash or whatever.
And, I'm older than I was. I'm not sure if my body can hold up the same way it did in my 20s. I'm ancient now. Sometimes I feel like my knees are taking to me. “Are you serious? Couldn't we just do like lawn bowling or something? Something that's just not so painful?” But yes, I've got the big picture in mind. Five twists won in Sochi and I suspect it will be the same at the next one, so I am going to start working towards doing five consistently.
But, for now, it's a month at a time. My coach and the support staff have the overall plan and for me and I don't have to think too much. It's just, 'What do I have to get done today?'
David Morris on social media: