Totsuka outduels James in superpipe for his first X Games Aspen gold medal
Veteran Shaun White pulls out after injuring knee during practice
The biggest heavyweight dropped out hours before the first round. Scotty James still brought his boxing gloves. But it was Yuto Totsuka who threw the knockout punch.
The Japanese phenom outdueled James for his first X Games Aspen gold medal on Sunday night in the men’s snowboard superpipe contest at Buttermilk, a real slugfest even though legend Shaun White pulled out due to injury in what was supposed to be his return.
“Dream come true,” Totsuka said. “This pipe is my favorite pipe.”
White was supposed to be the headline story. The three-time Olympic champion and 18-time Winter X Games medalist hasn’t competed at X Games since 2017 and hasn’t made a podium in Aspen since 2013. But he announced Sunday afternoon he was withdrawing because of an injury he sustained in practice.
“I tweaked my knee during practice this week and after talking with the medical staff, decided that pushing through would only make things worse,” White wrote on Instagram. “It’s a difficult decision to make, but just need to give my knee some time to recover and I’ll be back soon.”
White wasn’t the only big name not competing this week. California’s Toby Miller, White’s handpicked protégé, also was hurt during practice and withdrew. Idaho’s Chase Josey was another late scratch after suffering a big crash in practice on Saturday.
This left only seven athletes competing in Sunday’s halfpipe contest, including X Games rookie Joey Okesson and second-year X Games competitor Chase Blackwell, both Americans who were added to the starting list very late in the process.
Did this impact the decision-making by the athletes who did compete? At least for the podium, not at all.
“I just was coming out tonight with a run I was coming to do regardless of who was here,” James said. “And I’m glad I put one down.”
The competition more or less came down to the same two riders most contests these days come down to, that being James and Totsuka. James has dominated most contests since the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he won bronze, but the one person who has proven capable of beating the likable Australian is Totsuka.
The 19-year-old had finished runner-up to James the past two years at X Games Aspen, but came through with a massive third run to jump from third to first. James, who was the last to drop in, delivered on his fourth and final run but the judges kept him in second and gave the victory to Totsuka.
It is Totsuka’s first gold medal at X Games, and a sixth overall medal for James, the 26-year-old three-time winner at Buttermilk who is known for his boxing glove mittens.
“It was great to be back here. It’s always an event we look forward to, all of us. We are all really stoked we are able to come here with all the circumstances this year,” James said. “But X Games and ESPN and everyone and Aspen went through all the right protocol to make sure we came here safe. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m just about over getting COVID tests up my nose. But that’s the reality at the moment and that’s what we have to do to be safe.”
Finishing in bronze position Sunday was Japan’s Ruka Hirano, an X Games rookie, who went toe-to-toe with James and Totsuka much of the contest. Hirano, 18, is not related to 2018 X Games Aspen gold medalist Ayumu Hirano, who has not competed in Aspen since that event.
Steamboat’s Taylor Gold finished fourth on Sunday, followed by Okesson in fifth, Blackwell in sixth and Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer in seventh.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
The Aspen Community Foundation has opened up its 2022 scholarship application for local public high school students from diverse backgrounds to use on post-secondary education.