24 Hours To Men’s Halfpipe Gold—Olympic Snowboarding Events Begin Tomorrow

The Olympics are like getting married, or what I imagine it would be like to get executed. No matter how much you’ve prepared or how long you’ve been thinking about it, the final hours seem to rush at you. You’d like to slow it down if only there were a brake pedal—or even an e-brake—but you can’t.

It’s 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night in Italy. By early afternoon tomorrow, someone will be the third Olympic Gold Medalist in Men’s Halfpipe history. The energy at today’s practice was mixed, but a little more focused in general. Some riders rode the entire session, hoping that a handful of runs might change their fate. Others seem to have accepted that they may not have a run that will put them on the podium, or even in the finals.

Until last night, this whole Italy thing was nothing more than a really expensive snowboard contest with ten policemen to every rider. But the Opening Ceremonies changed that for all of us.

A Euro-erotic version of Mad Max and Italian celebrities aside, the Ceremonies are a gripping thing to be a part of, especially in today’s world. As the athletes (and way too many diplomatic types) streamed into the stadium alphabetically by country, it wasn’t hard to find grown men choked up or catching a tear before it dropped. The world’s most exploited and commercial sporting event is about much more than back-to-back tens, and the Ceremonies hit this home.

Teams ranged in size from just a couple of people walking with a flag to countries like Canada and the U.S., which looked (in size) like armies marching into the stadium. I scanned the groups for familiar riders: Giacomo Kratter, Italy’s top pipe personality; Gian Simmen, who won the Halfpipe Gold in 1998 and is competing again this year; and Kim Christiansen, a former World Champion who will retire after tomorrow’s contest.

Seeing Michelle Kwan (the ice skater) is what kind of tripped me out and made me realize that this is way bigger than snowboarding. Sofia Loren, Alberto Tomba, and Pavoratti were all there as well. Yoko Ono showed up, too, but nobody could really understand her. She gave what was probably the worst speech I’ve ever heard, but it was followed by John Lennon’s “Imagine, which can make up for most anything. Man, play that song and you will see dudes cry, I swear. I’m not going to wreck anyone here, but you know who you are/were.

Tomorrow’s event starts at 9:00 a.m. in Italy (nine hours later than Pacific Standard Time in the U.S.). By the time you wake up, this journey of a lifetime will be over. There will be a qualifying round of two runs, a half hour break, and then the two-run final.

Expect to see a winning run that includes at least 3,800 degrees of rotation—two nines and two tens. If that doesn’t do it, it will come down to three tens (Giacomo Kratter told me that he’ll go for the 1260 only if he makes the final), with the last one being a backside (not Cab) ten. Bud Keene, the U.S. Team Coach, emphasized that backside spins, along with long grabs and amplitude is what the judges will be looking for.

Here’s the deal. Shaun is the best rider in the field. He will win. After Shaun, it gets more interesting. Antti still has some good runs, but Mason Aguirre is going bigger and he’s more explosive than Antti. Then there’s Danny Kass, who’s been cruising all week, and Andy Finch, who only really started riding today. You can never rule out Danny, and Andy can go bigger than anyone when his game is on. I’m stalling, I guess. The whole “team element of the Games has been weird. Other countries are actually put off by what they perceive to be “the show of the Americans. U.S. riders could honestly sweep both the men and women’s halfpipe events.

It’s late here in Italy, and it’s time to lay the money down. I’m off to dinner with the Team—a last supper of sorts. Check in when you wake up for the historical news.

Here are my picks. Danny is unpredictable as hell, but that’s why I think he might surprise us. I had Danny and Maason swapped before.

1. Shaun White (U.S.)
2. Danny Kass (U.S.)
3. Antti Autti (Finland)
4. Mason Aguirre (U.S.)

Here’s what I’ve got for Monday’s women’s event:

1. Kelly Clark
2. Gretchen Bleiler
3. Haven’t decided yet. I’ll commit by tomorrow.