Hirano shines as White sneaks through in snowboard halfpipe qualifier at Copper
With Shaun White and Ayumu Hirano each competing in the same halfpipe again on Thursday, it’s starting to look a lot like 2018. The reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists, respectively, both made it through to the men’s halfpipe snowboard finals at the Copper Mountain Grand Prix, one of U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s official Olympic team qualifiers.
Hirano, the 22-year-old Japanese superstar who won Olympic silver in both 2014 and 2018, was competing in his first World Cup since December 2017 in Secret Garden, China, a competition he won. His only FIS competition since the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang had been the lower-level Aspen Open in February, which he won by a landslide.
Like Hirano, the 35-year-old White disappeared from the main circuit after winning his third Olympic gold medal in four attempts back in 2018. His competitive return came back in March at the Aspen Grand Prix, where he finished fourth overall and first among American men.
On Thursday, Hirano looked better prepared to make a run at the Olympic podium two months from now, scoring 88 on his first qualifying run at Copper Mountain before an untouchable 95.66 on his second and final run to lead the qualifier.
White scored 77.33 on his first run but did not finish his second. Still, the score held on for fifth place in the first heat, with the top five from each heat making it to Saturday’s final.
Winning the first heat was Japan’s Yuto Totsuka (90.33), who is only 20 and took over the snowboarding world last winter by winning X Games Aspen and the world championship, both over Australian great Scotty James. Totsuka, who also beat Hirano in Japan’s national championships in April, is the most likely candidate to keep Hirano or White from Olympic gold in February.
The 27-year-old James, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist and a three-time X Games Aspen champion, is not competing this week at Copper. He’s expected to return to the halfpipe next week for Dew Tour, also held at Copper.
Also qualifying to Saturday’s finals from the first heat along with Totsuka are Japan’s Raibu Katayama (86.66), Idaho’s Chase Josey (83.33), Steamboat’s Taylor Gold (83) and White.
Joining Hirano in the finals out of the second heat are Japan’s Ruka Hirano (90.66) — he’s unrelated to Ayumu — and a trio of Swiss riders in Patrick Burgener (78.66), David Habluetzel (73) and Jan Scherrer (70).
Despite scoring 76 on his second run in the first heat, Telluride’s Lucas Foster officially finished 11th and will miss finals. California’s Toby Miller also missed the cut, finishing 13th with 69, while Edwards’ Ryan Wachendorfer was 15th with 67.66. In 14th and missing finals was Japan’s Kaishu Hirano, Ayumu’s younger brother, who scored 68.
Kim, Mastro absent in women’s competition
On the women’s side, Spain’s Queralt Castellet put down the best run, scoring 94.33 to easily lead the qualifier. China’s Xuetong Cai was her closest competition, scoring 90.33 to lead the other heat.
Of the 34 women to start, only eight advanced to the finals. Of those eight, none are Americans. U.S. superstars Chloe Kim — the reigning Olympic gold medalist — and Maddie Mastro did not compete. Both are expected back next week for Dew Tour and can be considered Olympic team locks.
Also making the women’s finals out of the first heat with Cai are Japan’s Sena Tomita (88) and Mitsuki Ono (83.33), and China’s Shaotong Wu (80). Following Castellet into finals out of the second heat are Canada’s Elizabeth Hosking (81), Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto (78) and Switzerland’s Berenice Wicki (75.33).
Qualifying ninth and missing finals is Japan’s Jiayu Liu (70.33), the reigning Olympic silver medalist. Reigning Olympic bronze medalist Arielle Gold, sister to Taylor Gold, did not compete as she has since retired.
The top American woman who did compete in the qualifier on Thursday was 24-year-old Michigan native Zoe Kalapos, who was 10th with 64. She’ll have a good chance to make her first Olympic team this winter considering the lack of American depth in women’s halfpipe snowboarding behind Kim and Mastro. The 2018 Olympic team consisted of Kim, Gold, Mastro and the legendary Kelly Clark, who has also since retired.
The men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe finals are scheduled for Saturday. The men’s and women’s freeski halfpipe finals are scheduled for Friday, although the weather could play havoc on the plans. Aspen’s Alex Ferreira and Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber are among the skiers to have made Friday’s finals.
The International Ski and Snowboard Federation announced that for the first time in 19 years, a ski jumping World Cup event will take place on American soil from Feb. 10-12.
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