Japan’s Ayumu Hirano wins X Games superpipe gold; iPod injured in crash
Japan’s Ayumu Hirano outdueled Australian Scotty James and American Ben Ferguson to win Sunday’s men’s snowboard superpipe contest at X Games Aspen.
This, however, was secondary to a second-run crash that sent Swiss superstar Iouri Podladtchikov, better known as “iPod,” to the hospital. Podladtchikov, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hit the bottom of the pipe hard on his run and lost consciousness.
X Games officials said after the contest that Podladtchikov was alert and conversing and would be kept for observation. His CT scans were negative for brain and neck injury. He did suffer a nasal fracture.
“I hope Iouri is OK and I’m sending my best wishes to him,” James said. “He’s a fantastic rider and I always say never doubt a true champion. I’m sure he’ll be back before Korea. I didn’t actually see the crash, so I can’t talk too much about it. Just really hope he’s OK.”
After a delay that lasted nearly 30 minutes, the contest resumed with one of the most intense and impressive finishes in X Games superpipe history. This is the third X Games medal for Hirano, and his first X Games Aspen gold. He also won superpipe gold at X Games Oslo in 2016 and was the silver medalist at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“I was only going for first place being here and this routine is actually one I wanted to win with so I’m glad it all paid off,” Hirano said through a translator.
The contest started off as hot as it finished. Idaho’s Chase Josey, who will be on the U.S. Olympic team next month in South Korea, scored a 90 on the first run of the night. He only finished the first of the three rounds in third place, as Hirano and James didn’t wait around to deliver.
Hirano, who was second to last in the lineup, scored 93 on his first run, only to have James top him with a 96. James was the last to go as he entered as the reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist. Last year’s silver medalist, Matt Ladley, and bronze medalist, Taylor Gold, didn’t compete because of injury.
“I was expecting a good battle tonight, and that’s what I got. It was really good,” James said. “I was going out here and I wanted to win and that’s what I’ll be doing in Korea. That’s my mentality in competitions.”
Eagle’s Jake Pates, who once rode with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club when he was younger, was the first person in the pipe after Podladtchikov in the second run, scoring just 16.66. One rider after that was Oregon’s Ferguson, who scored 94.33 to put himself into second behind James, at least briefly.
Hirano followed Ferguson and scored 96.66 on his second run to retake the lead, one he would not relinquish. James scored 19.66 on his second run.
The podium was set entering the final three riders and the positions didn’t change, but there still was plenty of drama. Ferguson scored 95 on his final run before Hirano topped himself with a 99 — Shaun White is the only man to score a 100 in competition, doing so as recently as the Snowmass Grand Prix earlier this month — and James finished the contest with 98 and a somewhat frustrating silver medal.
James also took second at the Snowmass Grand Prix behind White, who had been in Aspen training ahead of X Games but decided to pull out of the contest to rest for the Olympics.
“Frustrating, for sure. You stand up top and you see a 99 and there is nothing I can really do about it other than do what I can do and ride the best that I can,” James said. “The really cool thing about this event is I can see what everyone else is doing and what everyone will do in the future leading into the Olympics. Ayumu has just done his run that you’ll see in Pyeongchang, and I got some more to answer back so I’m excited to bring it to the table.”
Josey finished fourth, X Games rookie Toby Miller fifth, Japan’s Raibu Katayama sixth, Gabe Ferguson seventh, Pates eighth, Greg Bretz ninth and Podladtchikov 10th.
White, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Ben Ferguson, Josey and Pates will represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics next month. The men’s halfpipe qualifying is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Phoenix Snow Park, with the finals scheduled for the next day.
“In two weeks time I really hope everyone is there and it really is going to be a showdown,” James said. “Ayumu is an amazing rider, as well as everyone else. I feel really good. I got some stuff I can still bring to the table.”
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