Aussie James finds way back to top of X Games podium, bests Hirano in halfpipe
Aussie boarder gets past Ayumu Hirano with Olympic-focused run at Buttermilk
With a 10-man field that had a few holes, the prevailing thought coming into Friday night’s X Games Aspen superpipe was Scotty James and Ayumu Hirano would be far ahead of the pack and thinking about the triple cork while the rest of the boarders would do their best to fight for bronze.
It was about the triple cork, but the elusive trick didn’t factor into the podium on this night after Hirano crashed on the run after clearing the triple on his last run and James left the trick in his pocket because he already had a gold medal in there.
The duo last battled it out in the X Games Aspen superpipe in 2018 with Hirano taking gold. But this time James reversed the outcome, pulling off a clean version of what likely will be his Olympic run.
“I think that was one of my favorite gold medals I’ve won here at X Games,” James said afterward. “After last year with not having any crowds and this year it was such an amazing energy. Honestly, I didn’t have a very good practice, probably my worst one. If I’m honest, I was coming into those first few runs without really landing anything so I was really happy to put through three solid runs.”
The winning run, which wasn’t given a point score in this 40-minute jam session, went like this: switch backside 1260, to a cab 1440, frontside 900, backside 1260, frontside 1260. Adjectives aside, the 1440 is four complete rotations sandwiched between a trip of three-and-half spins.
“It’s pretty close” to the run he’ll plan for the Olympics, James said, and he likely will “add a few more elements,” though he was coy about what that might be (triple cork, with a wink).
“It was important for me this week to land that run,” James said. “That was a key milestone for me and to take the next step moving forward.”
James didn’t pull out the triple cork, but Hirano tried to get atop James on his last run. But after clearing the triple he couldn’t link it with his next hit and washed out at the bottom of the 22-foot superpipe.
That gave the 27-year-old James, who was already in first place, the famed X Games victory lap with gold already in his boxing-glove covered hands.
Hirano arrived in Aspen as one of the hottest riders of the season with wins at the Laax Open and the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix earlier this month. He landed his competition-first triple cork at Dew Tour in December.
James knew his main competition Friday was Hirano, who returned to Aspen for the first time since his 2018 gold. In that win four years ago, Hirano put down back-to-back 1440s for a 99-point run on his final lap to beat James by a point.
Friday’s field was a little lighter with some of the athletes headed to next month’s Beijing Olympics opting out. Shaun White, who will make his fifth trip to the Olympic superpipe, was at Buttermilk on Friday but just making an appearance for a peanut butter whiskey product party earlier in the evening on the Home Team patio. White, who has claimed eight golds in the X Games superpipe, won Olympic gold in 2006, ’10 and ’18 (he was fourth in 2014) and is set to make his Olympic swan song.
Also sitting out Friday was Japanese sensation Yuto Totsuka, who won the X Games contest last year. Totsuka’s 2021 win came after finishing second to James in 2019 and 2020.
James, who made his X Games debut in 2014, was back on the Buttermilk superpipe podium for the seventh consecutive time. He also won gold in 2017, 2019, 2020, silver in 2018 and 2021 and his first medal was bronze in 2016.
James won bronze at the 2018 Olympics, and Hirano is the two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist. The Beijing Olympics snowboard superpipe finals are Feb. 11.
Through a translator, Hirano said between now and Beijing he’s going to “focus on my aggressive riding.” From here James will head to Switzerland to train for a week then head to Beijing.
“I’m gonna add a few more elements to my run (in training), which is going to be exciting,” James said. “I feel really good about that run.”
When asked what more fans might see at the Olympics, he remained wry: “I’ll leave it as a mystery.”
Finishing third on Friday was Ayumu Hirano’s younger brother, Kaishu Hirano, who was making his X Games debut. Vail’s Ryan Wachendorfer was fourth.
Mother Nature — and some unfortunate training injuries — completely changed the vibe around the women’s halfpipe skiing final on Saturday at X Games Aspen.