Based on the level of riding in the qualifying round, the men’s snowboard halfpipe final is going to be intense.
Shaun White led the way, but Australia’s Scotty James and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano showed why they’re considered gold medal contenders as well. All three riders landed runs well above what’s normally seen during qualifying events, setting the stage for what could be one of the most progressive halfpipe competitions ever seen in tomorrow’s final.
Although all three riders looked assured of spots in the final based on their first-run scores, it turned into a game of one-upmanship on the final set of runs.
First, Hirano dropped in for a big run that included a cleanly landed frontside double cork 1260. That run knocked White out of the top spot.
Then, James came out and stomped back-to-back double cork 1260s on his first two hits. His run displaced Hirano from the top of the leaderboard.
After that, it was White’s turn to answer. Not one to be outdone, he put his trademark amplitude on display and dropped back-to-back 1260s of his own. And once again, the contest had a new leader.
On most occasions, riders choose to keep their runs relatively mellow during the qualifying round – especially when they’re not in any danger of missing the final. But White, James and Hirano all looked like they were here to make a statement.
And the best is still yet to come. All three of the favorites are bringing progressive tricks to PyeongChang.
Hirano recently became the first rider to land back-to-back 1440s. White says he’s been working on the same combo and plans to do it here.
James has the switch backside double cork 1260, an extremely challenging trick that no other rider in the field is doing.
None of those tricks came out in the qualifying round, but expect to see them in the final. All three riders will need to empty out their bag of tricks in hopes of beating each other.
While the battle for gold is focused around the aforementioned trio, there will be 12 riders total in the final. Japan will have three riders in the final, Australia and Switzerland will have two riders, and Finland will have one.
But it’s the traditionally deep U.S. team leading the charge with four riders, including White, making the final.
Ben Ferguson, who qualified in fourth place with a great run of his own, is likely the team’s top medal contender outside of White, but Chase Josey and Jake Pates could be in the mix as well.