Words: Mary Walsh
Photos: Mark Clavin

Immediately, following up the ladies' halfpipe finals in 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, twenty-nine of the best male halfpipe riders took to the 22-foot walls in Bogwang Phoenix Park in hopes of landing one of the twelve coveted spots in tomorrow's finals. The ranks of competitors are deep at the 2018 Olympics: Australia's Scotty James and Kent Callister; Japan's Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiroaka; USA's Shaun White, Ben Ferguson, Chase Josey, and Jake Pates; Finland's Peetu Piiroinen; Switzerland's Jan Scherrer and Patrick Burgener; Ireland's Seamus O'Connor; China's Zhang Yiwei; Korea's Lee Kawng Ki, among others.

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Qualifiers is generally about balance: put down a run that, ideally, isn't your best one (save that for finals), but is strong enough to land you in the upper echelon of the field--in PyeongChang, that means ending up in the top twelve. Finding the sweet spot between safety run and all-out-send is different for every individual, of course, but with only two drops to make it count, pressure is still thick in the air during quals. At the 2018 Winter Games, the drops were fast, the airs were high, and the multi-off-axis corks were plentiful. Cold weather in South Korea has kept the halfpipe in pristine condition and its 650-feet of perfectly cut parallel walls provided a proper proving ground for twenty-nine of the world's best.

Watch Ayumu’s qualifying run here:

Shaun White took the lead in qualifiers early on, effortlessly stomping back-to-back double cork 1080's and a double McTwist 1260, notably the trick the earned him gold in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Fellow American teammate, Ben Ferguson, arguably one of the most creative riders in the halfpipe circuit, let loose an absolutely massive air-to-fakie on his first hit and followed it up with a glimpse of the doubles he surely plans to unleash in finals. They took the one-two spots right away. Until, that is, Japan's Ayumu Hirano entered the start gate for his second drop, and all hell broke loose. Ayumu, who erupted onto the global stage at his first Olympic showing in Sochi, where he earned a silver medal, sent it into the stratosphere on his second attempt. An enormous backside air kicked off a run that was simultaneously so casual, yet so explosive--the archetype of Ayumu's style of snowboarding--and still so pared down from what he will bring to finals.

And then, in most definitely a foreshadowing of what's to come when these gentlemen drop into their three runs tomorrow, Australian Scotty James casually tossed back-to-back 1260s (first going backside to switch backside) in his second qualifiers run, surpassing Shaun White and moving into first place with a 96.75. White dropped next and followed Scotty up with back-to-back twelves of his own, taking the top spot back with a score of 98.50. It was palpable how excited livestream announcer Todd Richards became at this point as the race for number one in qualifiers, and the position to drop last in finals, heated up exponentially. In the end, it was Shaun in first, Scotty in second, and Ayumu in third heading into finals. Tomorrow it's anyone's gold, silver, and bronze to win.

RESULTS
Shaun White, USA - 98.50
Scotty James, AUS - 96.75
Ayumu Hirano, Japan - 95.25
Ben Ferguson, USA - 91.00
Raibu Katayama, Japan - 90.75
Jan Scherrer, Switzerland - 84.00
Chase Josey, USA - 83.75
Jake Pates, USA - 82.25
Patrick Burgener, Switzerland - 82.00
Yuto Totsuka, Japan - 80.00
Peetu Piiroinen, Finland - 77.50
Kent Callister, AUS - 77.00