Words: Mary Walsh
Photos: Mark Clavin
The mainstream media would have you believe that the men's halfpipe finals at the 2018 Winter Olympics are a battle of one. A rematch, four years in the making between one American rider and the halfpipe gold that evaded him in Sochi: Shaun White verses the PyeongChang pipe. It's a story of redemption: Shaun earned gold in Turin in 2006 and in Vancouver in 2010, but wasn't able to put a podium run together in Russia—he fell on his third and final run. But while Shaun was surely chasing a medal in today's finals in the Bogwang Phoenix Park in South Korea, his story is one layer within the four years of evolving men's halfpipe competition that has churned since the last Winter Games and was presented to the world via the whole of the twelve Olympics finals riders from the US, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and Finland in one of the wildest pipe finals contests to date. And while Shaun's story is paramount, the overarching theme is that men's pipe riding is in a very incredible place, one filled with back-to-back double corks alongside massive methods and airs-to-fakie.
As the morning of Wednesday, February 14, 2018 opened up in South Korea, the men's pipe contest was anyone's to win and from the very beginning, the riders pulled no punches. Switzerland's Patrick Burgener put down the first full pull. Japan's Raibu Katayama and USA's Chase Josey followed closely behind, moving their way up the ranking. Scotty James broke into the 90's as the second-to-last in the dropping order when he showed up and threw down a first-hit double cork twelve sixteen feet above the lip, as well as a switch backside double cork twelve on his last hit. He was rewarded for his efforts with a 92.00. Scotty's reign at the top was brief though, as Shaun White unleashed an enormous double 1440 on the very first wall, kicking off a run that the judges would award a 94.25 and setting the bar very, very high for the remaining two runs. But, even a run that appears practically unbeatable—like Shaun's first go—is not invincible. On this day in South Korea, the men's halfpipe pipe finals would be a battle until the end.
Ayumu Hirano burst onto the snowboarding scene in 2011 when, at age twelve, he won the Burton Junior Jam, flying as high as his senior counterparts. In 2013, he competed at his first X Games Aspen, clenching a silver medal. In 2014, he won his first Olympic medal in silver. And since then, Ayumu's uncanny ability to send it clear into the stratosphere with an unflinching style has earned him not only plenty of podiums, but admiration within snowboarding. As the Japanese rider dropped into the PyeongChang pipe for his second run, he effortlessly floated a giant backside air, back-to-back double 1440's (frontside to cab) and back-to-back double 1260's (frontside to double McTwist). The scoreboard flashed 95.25 and Ayumu moved into first, one point in the lead. But again, it wasn't over.
Watch Ayumu’s silver medal run here:
In likely the heaviest men's halfpipe contest to date, the top of the podium essentially mandated back-to-back 1440s and back-to-back twelves in a single go. That is a mental concept: two double cork fourteens and two double twelves. During the third attempts, banner runs were put down by Ferguson, Burgener, and Josey—they ended fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. Scotty James' first run would remain his best and he ended the day with a very respectable bronze medal. Ayumu Hirano tried to better his second run score and advance his lead in his third run, but washed out, leaving an opportunity for White's final push to regain the lead position. Shaun White performs under pressure, and as the world watched, Shaun dropped, blasted back-to-back 1440's and followed it up with a double McTwist to a frontside 1260. The run he needed, when he needed it. The judges tabulated their scores: 97.75 and Shaun White had won his third Olympic gold. Redemption had been achieved, Shaun had risen, once again, to the top of the podium, sharing it with two very deserving peers. The collective bar of men's pipe riding once again raised to an unprecedented level.
Enormous congratulations to every rider who dropped into the PyeongChang pipe and especially to Shaun, Ayumu, and Scotty for adding to their medal collections. Nice work, gentlemen!
Watch Shaun White’s winning run here:
Gold – Shaun White, USA – 97.75
Silver – Ayumu Hirano, Japan – 95.25
Bronze – Scotty James, Australia – 92.00
Fourth – Ben Ferguson, USA – 90.75
Fifth – Patrick Burgener, Switzerland – 89.75
Sixth – Chase Josey, USA – 88.00
Seventh – Raibu Katayama, Japan – 87.00
Eighth – Jake Pates, USA – 82.25
Ninth – Jan Scherrer, Switzerland – 80.50
Tenth – Kent Callister, Australia – 62.00
Eleventh – Yuto Totsuka, Japan – 39.25
Twelfth – Peetu Piiroinen, Finland – 13.50