Japan’s Ayumu Hirano turned anger into Olympic gold on Friday, shrugging off a perceived injustice to win the Beijing Games men’s snowboard halfpipe title with a dramatic final ride.
The dreadlocked Hirano, a silver medallist at both the 2014 and 2018 Games, said he “didn’t understand” how he could be in second place behind Australia’s Scotty James after a jaw-dropping second run in Friday’s event.
He simply got back on his board and put in an even more spectacular performance on his third and final attempt, claiming the gold on the last run of the competition.
“I didn’t understand it — I was really angry,” the normally mild-mannered 23-year-old said of the score for his second run, which saw him become the first rider ever to land the ultra-difficult triple cork move and complete the run.
“But I turned that anger to my advantage in the third run. It helped me concentrate even more than usual.”
Hirano finished with 96.00 points, beating James into silver on 92.50 and giving Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer the bronze on 87.25.
American snowboard legend Shaun White, who was appearing in his final competition before retiring, finished fourth on 85.00.
The competition was touted as potentially the best halfpipe contest in snowboard history and it soon lived up to its billing.
Hirano landed a triple cork on his first run but fell soon after, allowing James to take the lead on his second run.
Hirano thought he had assumed control after his own second run, but the judges thought otherwise to set up a pressure-drenched finale.
“I knew I had the technique to win, but even so there are still times when you can fail,” said Hirano, who also competed in skateboarding at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“To do what I set out to do on this stage, and at the very end — I’m very happy with my performance today.”
Victory was sweet for the soft-spoken Hirano, who lost out on the gold to White on the final run of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Hirano became the first rider to land the triple cork in competition this season but he had never completed his run after doing the trick.
This time he was “able to deliver the image” he had of his run in his mind, and said his trick “might start a new era” in snowboarding.
– ‘It’s his time’ –
James, who won bronze at the Pyeongchang Games, said the competition had shown the best of the sport.
“I’m really proud to be in the mix with the top three,” he said.
“Any guy in the field today could have executed really well and come away and stood on top. It’s an exciting time in snowboarding and today showed that.”
Every rider paid tribute to White, the 35-year-old triple gold medallist who cut an emotional figure after falling on his final run with a medal in sight.
But the day belonged to Hirano, who White called “a true athlete”.
“I know he’s wanted it and it’s his time,” White said.
“I’m happy for him, I really am. What a true athlete to be skating and snowboarding. I wish him the best.”