PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – Ayumu Hirano already has an Olympic silver medal back home in Japan. The budding snowboarding superstar didn’t plan on leaving Phoenix Snow Park with another one.
Yet it happened anyway because Shaun White happened, as he tends to do with the world watching.
White’s scintillating final run in the men’s halfpipe final vaulted him past Hirano atop the podium for his third Olympic gold, relegating Hirano to silver for the second time in four years. No offense, but Hirano wonders if maybe the positions should have been reversed.
Asked if he felt he deserved gold instead of White, whose score of 97.75 was just clear of Hirano’s 95.25, the soft-spoken 19-year-old’s answer was polite but firm.
“Yes I do but the result is the result,” Hirano said. “And whatever I do, whatever I say, the result cannot be changed.”
Hirano was a close second to Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov in Sochi. In the interim he has become every bit White’s equal. He stormed to the top spot at X Games last month, an event White opted to skip while dealing with a cold and with his Olympic spot already locked up.
A “winner take all” between White, Hirano and Australian Scotty James loomed in the South Korean mountains. They wanted to put on a show. In a way, they did even more than that. The three were at the forefront of electrifying qualifying on Tuesday, stringing together edgy runs that in some ways would have been home in the finals in lower-stakes events.
The Olympics, however, are something different. The proof came in the finals. Hirano has become the standard bearer in many respects, his back-to-back 1440s (two flips and two twists, or four 360-degree rotations) is the trick by which all others are measured. Until Wednesday, he was the only snowboarder in the world to have done it in competition.
Then White matched him on his final run, throwing consecutive 1440s at the top and doing just a bit more at the bottom to slip by, including his signature trick a Double McTwist 1260.
“There are no big differences between us, what we did,” Hirano said.
Not at all. And that’s kind of the problem. In a judged sport, everything is subjective. White worried he was being compared to his past greatness, not against the rest of the 12-man final. Hirano on Wednesday found a snowboarder he considers an idol come up behind him, replicate the trick he perfected and get the nod for gold instead.
“Under this condition, on this pipe it’s very, very difficult to mark higher than (White) did,” Hirano said. “But perhaps I have some room to improve on the height and the perfectness, perfect landing.”
James, who began his stay in South Korea by openly questioning the way judges put together their scores, pulled back a bit once competition began. He praised the scoring during qualifying and didn’t exactly hang his head after earning bronze in arguably the best finals since the discipline made its Olympics debut a generation ago.
“I expected a battle and that’s exactly what it was,” James said. “I came out swinging and punching as much as I could and gave it my best shot and happy with the third place.”
James, who wears boxing gloves when he rides as a symbol of his competitiveness, understood his loss – if winding up with a medal in a group that includes generational talents in White and Hirano is a “loss” -was a technical knockout, not a personal one.
The 23-year-old threw down a 92 during the first of his three finals runs, only to see Ayumu and then White top it. It wasn’t quite the ending he hoped, but he understands the true victor may have been their sport.
The Olympics provide a massive platform for snowboarding, one that events like X Games can’t touch. If some of the millions who tuned in Wednesday find themselves won over by the physics and gravity pushing display they saw, that’s hardly a bad thing.
“They’re all really tough, difficult tricks and we’re all able to come out and put on a good show and do what we wanted to do here today,” James said. “So that’s good.”