Sports

Ayumu Hirano makes history with Japan’s first snowboard halfpipe gold


Ayumu Hirano made Japanese sporting history on Friday when he won the country’s first Olympic snowboarding gold medal, taking the men’s halfpipe title at the Beijing Games.

Hirano scored 96.00 points in his third run with a spectacular display that included a triple cork 1440, enough to separate him from Australian Scotty James, who finished in the silver position with 92.50 at Genting Snow Park. Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer took bronze.

Hirano won snowboard halfpipe silver at the 2014 and 2018 games, then switched to skateboard and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics before this triumphant return to his roots.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet but finally one of my childhood dreams has come true,” Hirano said. “I couldn’t end without getting this one, I gave everything.”

Hirano’s triple cork 1440 was the first landed in Olympic competition, and he did it on each run.

His perfect second trip down the halfpipe looked worthy of gold, but the judges thought it only deserved 91.75 points, which left him in second behind James. The score was met with loud boos from the spectators at the venue.

Hirano took things into his own hands in his final run, putting down the triple cork 1440 perfectly again and throwing in two more 1440s and two 1220s.

Ayumu Hirano competes in the men's halfpipe competition at the Beijing Olympics at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, China, on Friday. | REUTERS
Ayumu Hirano competes in the men’s halfpipe competition at the Beijing Olympics at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, China, on Friday. | REUTERS

For the other Japanese riders, it was a tale of woe, with Hirano’s brother, Kaishu, finishing ninth, Yuto Totsuka 10th and Ruka Hirano 12th.

Totsuka, who was among the favorites for gold, had two solid, if unspectacular, runs that garnered 62.00 and 69.75, but in his do-or-die final trip, he fell on a backside 1080 attempt and rode out of the pipe deflated.

“I really felt there are things I’m lacking. I could have scored more if I got both of my two runs more cleanly and that’s down to my lack of ability,” said the reigning world champion Totsuka.

Competing at an Olympics for the first time with his brother, Kaishu got off to a nice start with a 75.50 run that put him in second, but he failed to improve when the heat turned up.

“I’ve always had big air as the thing to do on this stage, doing one that lives long in people’s memories rather than on record books,” said Kaishu, who got cheers from for the tricks in all the three runs. One of his airs reached nearly 6 meters high.

Kaishu Hirano in action on his third run in the men's snowboard halfpipe final on Friday. | REUTERS
Kaishu Hirano in action on his third run in the men’s snowboard halfpipe final on Friday. | REUTERS

As a brother who saw all his sibling’s ups and downs first hand, Kaishu said he cannot be more than happy for him.

“We’ve been striving together since we were small. I toured tournaments with him this season, and there were both exciting and tough times. I’m so happy that the person who deserves the most won the gold medal,” the 19-year-old said.

Ruka entered the final as the third-top qualifier after scoring 87.00 in the preliminary round, but his Friday turned into a nightmare when he fell three times on the same backside 1220 trick.

James was in great pre-games form, the dominant rider of recent years, but the Australian’s best was not quite good enough in the face of Hirano’s triple cork.

“I’m honestly really proud, obviously so much work goes into this and Ayumu is an amazing competitor, and we have a good rivalry,” he said.

“I knew I had to deliver my best and get my best shot in the end there and unfortunately I came unstuck.”

American three-time gold medalist Shaun White missed the podium in his fifth and final Olympics.

Shaun White reacts on the sidelines of the medal ceremony of the men's snowboard halfpipe final. | REUTERS
Shaun White reacts on the sidelines of the medal ceremony of the men’s snowboard halfpipe final. | REUTERS

White finished in fourth place after he clipped the lip of the halfpipe on his third run and slid down the wall feet-first.

Removing his helmet as he accepted the applause of the crowd one last time, White cruised slowly down to the finish to await his final score.

The stands at the Genting Snow Park were packed with local supporters and the area near the finish line was filled with American and Japanese teammates and other supporters waving their country’s flags. The entire crowd roared when White finished his final run.

Tears filled his eyes as he hugged his fellow competitors, many of whom often cite him as a hero.

“It’s been a journey. I can’t wait to see where this sport goes,” White said.

“A lot of emotions are hitting me right now, the cheering from the crowd, some kind words from my fellow competitors at the bottom, I’m so happy.

“Snowboarding, thank you. It’s been the love of my life.”

When speaking to the media afterward, every rider paid tribute to White, but the day belonged to Hirano, whom White called “a true athlete.”

“I know he’s wanted it and it’s his time,” White said.

“I’m happy for him, I really am. What a true athlete to be skating and snowboarding. I wish him the best.”

Silver medalist Scotty James, gold medalist Ayumu Hirano and bronze medalist Jan Scherrer on the podium following the snowboard men's halfpipe final | AFP-JIJI
Silver medalist Scotty James, gold medalist Ayumu Hirano and bronze medalist Jan Scherrer on the podium following the snowboard men’s halfpipe final | AFP-JIJI

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