It was an admittedly sketchy start to the men's pipe competition today with warm weather in Sochi making the flat bottom of the pipe soft, bumpy and quite frankly, pretty shitty for the riders.
The 43 male snowboarders were divided into two heats this morning and each rider had two runs. The top 3 highest scoring riders from each heat advanced straight to finals, with positions 4 to 9 in each heat riding again in semi finals for a further 6 spots in the finals.
Despite the conditions, Ayumu Hirano and Shaun White still went massive, with both riders topping their respective heats and advancing straight to this evening's finals.
Ayumu was second to drop in his heat and launched into a stratospheric backside air, following up with a frontside 1080, cab 1080, frontside 900, backside 540 and frontside double cork 1080. Ayumu is only 15 years old but absolutely SENDS IT on every hit, and it's really quite remarkable to see how much edge control he has. He posted a 92.25 and stayed in first place for the rest of his heat.
Christian 'Hitch' Haller and David Hablützel both put down super solid runs and finished up behind Ayumu in 2nd and 3rd.
In the second heat, all eyes were on Shaun White, Danny Davis and Iouri Podladtchikov. This really is Shaun's comp to loose and as the first to drop of the three he unleashed a predictably explosive run - massive backside air, frontside double cork 1080, cab double cork 1080, his staple frontside 540 stalefish, backside 900 and an alley oop rodeo 540. That run earned him a whopping 95.75 - perhaps a little inflated but definitely worthy of the highest score of the heat we think.
His second run was a signal of intent, including his double mctwist 1260 and a reverted frontside double cork 1440. He couldn't land it clean but that is looking like the run to beat if he can get it in finals, a tough ask if the conditions are as bad as they were this afternoon.
On I-Pod's first run he got eaten up by the horrifically bumpy flat bottom. Luckily for him though he got it together in the second round and posted a decent but not spectacular run that saw him finish up in 8th. He'd have to ride again in semis - more on that later.
Danny Davis, as expected, was the snowboarder's champ of the heat and landed his fabled and much praised run from the US Grand Prix events in Mammoth last month. Despite being very vocal about how crappy the pipe has been he put down a super sick backside 360 tail bone, a switch method bigger than most other dudes' regular ones, cab 1080, double crippler, mctwist, frontside 720 and switch alley oop rodeo. That earned him a score of 92 and saw him finish up in third place. After taking his second run decidedly easier, he threw in a sick frontside invert at the end to stoke out the old timers. Absolute hero.
Japan's Taku Hiraoka also bossed his first run and will also advance straight to finals with the two Americans.
The remaining riders in 4th to 9th position advanced to the semi finals where the 12 riders (well, 11 as Jan Scherrer pulled out) competed for the remaining 6 spots in finals. The full results from both qualification heats are below:
Iouri Podladtchikov got it together in semi finals to post a 87.50 and advance to finals, the USA's Greg Bretz also makes it through.
By the time semi finals rolled around the pipe was floodlit and the backdrop dark. We'd hoped that the disappearance of the sun would have firmed up the pipe but as far as we could tell it was still super sketchy to ride, with riders washing out and tumbling all over the place. Not ideal.
Still, the show had to go on and I-Pod dropped in to put down the best run of the session with a big backside air, frontside 9, backside 9, frontside 10, cab double and frontside 5 all super clean.
Greg Bretz also held it together although fellow American Taylor Gold could not.
Kent Callister, owner of one of the most tweaked out methods of the entire comp, had a stormer of a second run to make it to finals while the two Chinese (Yiwei and Wancheng) snuck ahead of the final dude to advance, Tim Kevin Ravnjak (extra props to Slovenia for having one of the sickest team uniforms out there...).
One of the saddest faces we saw in the whole semis was that of Arthur Longo's. He couldn't quite hold it together in the sketchy pipe and fell on both his runs. His look of disappointment was one that could sum up the whole of today's competition so far. The halfpipe simply hasn't been up to scratch and these guys have worked their asses off for the last two seasons to get here.
If there's one thing that all of this will be good for, it will be exposing the fact that the IOC and FIS have chosen not to bring in the best builders in the world to construct this half pipe. It's an absolute shambles and hopefully the inevitable fall-out after today will mean that this is fixed for four years time.
Here are the full results from semis:
Don't forget to tune in at 18.30 for our live blog of the men's halfpipe finals