Big Air may be the shiny new snowboard discipline at Pyongchang 2018, but good old halfpipe (now an Olympic event for 20 years) is still the one to beat in terms of spectacle.
Defending champion Iouri Podlatchikov is out after sustaining a head injury at the X Games - we're wishing him a speedy recovery. Even if he'd shown up, however, he'd have a task on his hands retaining the gold.
Japan's Ayumu Hirano is definitely one of the favourites, with a run featuring back-to-back 1440s. It recently bagged him X Games gold, so if he can stick that routine in South Korea then it's his to lose.
Sochi bronze medallist Taku Hiraoka will most likely sail through qualifiers, as will Americans Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey. Yiwei Zhang from China will probably do the same, even if he doesn't whip out his triple cork.
"Despite almost being old enough to be Ayumu's dad, Shaun's still capable of beating him"
Despite almost being old enough to be Ayumu's dad, he's still capable of beating him. His recent 100-score was controversial, but there's no doubt that it was world class. Write him off at your peril.
Scotty James is another rider likely to bother the podium, and Pat Burgener will aim to bring the gold back to Switzerland. Meanwhile Peetu Piiroinen might not be a contender, but it's nice to see the silver medallist from Vancouver 2010 still making it to the Games - especially as he's one of the few competing in both slopestyle and halfpipe.
Whatever happens, Wednesday's final will be insane. All these guys want to be there, so there'll be no holding back in the qualifier.
Riders (in order of drop):
Yuto TOTSUKA, Derek LIVINGSTON, Kent CALLISTER, Jake PATES, Jan SCHERRER, Chase JOSEY, Ayumu HIRANO, Raibu KATAYAMA, Tim-Kevin RAVNJAK, Ben FERGUSON, Taku HIRAOKA, Markus MALIN, Scotty JAMES, Shaun WHITE, Patrick BURGENER, ZHANG Yiwei, SHI Wancheng, Johannes HOEPFL, Janne KORPI, Elias ALLENSPACH, Rakai TAIT, Tit STANTE, Peetu PIIROINEN, LEE Kwang Ki, Seamus O CONNOR, KIM Ho Jun, Nathan JOHNSTONE, KWEON Leejun, Nikita AVTANEEV
After the craziest qualifier in recent memory, Shaun White is through to tomorrow's final in first place.
- Shaun White (USA) - 98.50
- Scotty James (AUS) - 96.75
- Ayumu Hirano (JPN) - 95.25
- Ben Ferguson (USA) - 91.00
- Raibu Katayama (SUI) - 90.75
- Jan Scherrer (SUI) - 84.00
- Chase Josey (USA) - 83.75
- Jake Pates (USA) - 82.25
- Patrick Burgener (SUI) - 82.00
- Yuto Totsuka (JPN) - 80.00
- Peetu Piiroinen - 77.50
- Kent Callister - 77.00
Right from the off, it was clear that this was set to be better than most finals. Several strong runs were put down from the first half of the field, with the welcome return of Kent Callister’s method among the early highlights.
Naturally it was Ben Ferguson and Ayumu Hirano setting the pace, albeit with runs that left room for improvement. Both were soon usurped by Shaun White, who by the end of run one had a comfortable lead at the top.
"this was one for the books – the best showcase of halfpipe snowboarding that anyone could have asked for"
Things petered out a little towards the end; Finland’s Janne Korpi was among the riders that didn’t get their run going, but overall the first round had delivered.
With only a dozen final spots up for grabs, those not yet safe came out firing in their second run. Japan’s Yoto Totsuka went bigger and looser, and set a precedent for what was to come.
Both Jake Pates and Chase Josey needed to stick a clean run in order to qualify for tomorrow’s final, and in true American style they handled the pressure and made the cut. However, even they were about to be upstaged by three riders that can only be described as superhuman.
Ayumu was coasting by his own high standards, but his second run (huge backside air, frontside 1080 truck driver, cab double cork 10, frontside 900 tailgrab, back 9, front 1260) still earned him a giant score of 95.25. That put him ahead of Shaun into the coveted ‘last to drop’ spot in the final.
Scotty James wanted that honour just as badly, and stepped up his own impressive first run. His opening back-to-back 1260s were followed by front 10, switch backside 540, cab 5 and switch back 9, and that put him at the top of the pile. With a 96.75.
He wasn't there for long, though; Shaun once again found another gear, with insane amplitude on his impressive run of front double 10, cab double 10, front 5 stalefish, double McTwist 12 and frontside double cork 12. The judges rewarded him with a frankly bonkers score of 98.50 – if he works his 1440 in there tomorrow, they’ll surely have to think about what gets a maximum score.
Ben Ferg’s second run wasn’t an improvement on his first, but his consistency showed that he can still be a threat to the trio. Raibu Katayama and Jan Scherrer will struggle to earn a podium step, but they both did better than expected and found their way into the top six.
The sight of Peetu Piiroinen in the finals list is a welcome one; the veteran (albeit one who’s still in his 20s) did enough to make the cut, despite splitting his time between slopestyle and halfpipe. That’s talent for you. A Finn, he’s one of only three riders in the final not to hail from either Japan, Switzerland or the USA (the others being Scotty and Kent, the Aussies).
Peetu’s presence tomorrow is at the expense of Sochi bronze medallist Taku Hiraoka. He survived on the bubble for much of the second run, but in the end hadn’t done enough to defend his 2014 result.
"Shaun once again found another gear, with insane amplitude on his impressive run"
Another surprise omission from the final is China’s Yiwei Zhang. If he’s got the triple in his bag, he didn’t show it, and the run he put down without it fell short of what the judges were looking for. It says a lot about the overall standard that even he didn’t make the grade.
Seriously, this was one for the books – the best showcase of halfpipe snowboarding that anyone could have asked for. Well, at least until tomorrow... Despite the dominance of Shaun, Scotty and Ayumu, you never know what might happen in a final, and we cant wait to see where things go from here.
Check back tomorrow to find out who took home the medals.
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While many of us will never even get close to attempting a switch triple cork 1440 Octo grab in real life, thanks to the magic of video games, and in particular ‘Steep: Road To The Olympics’, that possibility is much closer than you think.
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