"Victory is mine!"
Photos: Sam Mellish
Night Shift: Ed Blomfield, Tom Copsey, Andrew Duthie & Sam McMahon
If you'd tuned into the men's qualifiers last night, you would have been forgiven for thinking you'd jumped a day and were already watching the medal being decided. Out of all the snowboard events so far at PyeongChang 2018, this is the one where most of the field had turned up and were able to put down their best.
Ayumu Hirano, Scotty James and Shaun White looked in a class of their own yesterday and it looked highly unlikely that anyone else would bother the podium, though Ben Ferguson's departure from the norm - getting tech with three switch backside take offs - was rewarded by the judges. Given an outside chance, he was primed to challenge the medals.
"This was set to be one of the all-time halfpipe finals"
With a pristine looking pipe for the first time in a few Olympic cycles and a calm, sunny day forecast there was no room for any ifs, buts or maybes - and bar the lack of defending champion Iouri Podladchikov due to an injury, this was set to be one of the all-time halfpipe finals.
Though the scores were massive yesterday, we knew that each of the top three had something up their sleeves: Ayumu could convert his front and cab 1080s into 1440s, Scotty was yet to put down his three 1260s here in Korea and rumours of something new were swirling around El Blanco. And dropping last, he was already in the place he loves the most - could he make it four-from-four for the USA snowboard team so far?
Enough pre-amble, you deserve the results - here's what went down.
It was the kind of drama that you'd expect from a Hollywood script, but given the perfect set up there was only ever going to be one ending: Shaun White dropped into his last run in an uncharacteristic second place, tailing Ayumu Hirano and with all to play for. He'd already shown he had the potential to equal the Japanese rider's back-to-back 1440s on run two, but unable to put down the back double 1260 - aka the Tomahawk - it was all down to this last moment.
That, however, has always been where he thrives. Frontside and cab 1440s at the top led into his signature front 540 stalefish - a feature of his run in 2006 and still a staple - before he unleashed the backside and frontside 1260s. Though their runs had the same big tricks, Shaun's were bigger and put down earlier in the run, so when the scores came in there wasn't much of a surprise.
Gold. His third in four Olympics, and the USA's fourth from four so far in Pyeongchang 2018.
It was the perfect, redemptive third act to his story arc after crashing out in Sochi four years ago, and the chances are slim that we'll see anyone as dominant in competitive snowboarding again. At 31, it's unlikely we'll see him in Beijing 2022, but in actual fact, only time will tell.
"It was the perfect, redemptive third act to his story arc after crashing out in Sochi four years ago"
- Shaun White (USA) - 97.75
- Ayumu Hirano (JPN) - 95.25
- Scotty James (AUS) - 92.00
- Ben Ferguson (USA) - 90.75
- Patrick Burgener (SUI) - 89.75
- Chase Josey (USA) - 88.00
- Raibu Katayama (JPN) - 87.00
- Jake Pates (USA) - 82.25
- Jan Scherrer (SUI) - 80.50
- Kent Callister (AUS) - 62.00
- Yuto Totsuka (JPN) - 39.25
- Peetu Piiroinen (FIN) - 13.50
Ayumu looked disappointed when the last score came in, but in truth, each of the top six put their very best on the line - there was nowhere left to go. His backside air and back-to-back 14s and 12s were truly monstrous, and although arguably cleaner were still just off the amplitude of El Blanco's.
Finishing with the bronze, Scotty James was the third 'alien' in this pack. After putting his best run down in the first round, he spent the next two trying to clean it up and go bigger. Frontside double 1260, backside 1260, frontside 1080, cab 540 taipan finishing with his switch backside 1260, arguably the single hardest trick out there right now. It's an amazing run, but one that's played second fiddle to the two riders above him today twice already this season.
Ben Ferguson had a completely different approach but didn't change his run from the previous day. With an indy grab in and air-to-fakie to start, he included three doubles, all switch: cab double 1080, switch double crippler and a switch double rodeo with a huge, almost cheeky backside 360 thrown in before the end.
That was good enough for fourth, just edging out Pat Burgener into fifth. Compared to qualifiers, he was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day with an absolute blinder of a run that included a frontside 1260, switch backside 1260 and switch double Michalchuk, all put down on his last go. He was a positive force in Bokwang today, constantly smiling and telling the camera he was doing it "for Switzerland, for Korea, for the USA... United world!" Especially challenging considering he had to drop straight after sixteen-year-old Yuto Totsuka's horrendous slam, hitting the coping at full force on a front dub 10 - we hope he recovers soon.
Chase Josey's sixth-place finish probably would have podiumed at a normal event, again going a different route to most of the field with switch double Michalchucks and cripplers, and at 22 he's maybe still got another winter games in him if the throne is vacated by the next cycle. In fact, every one of the nine riders that put down a clean run scored in the 80s, probably the best indicator of the standard today.
This final showed just how good the Olympic halfpipe can be - and was definitely worth the (for us) early morning start. With all the best riders in one place at one time, everything to play for and an estimated viewing audience of 100 million, it really does bring the drama. Hearts were in mouths and more than one of our late-night team were out of their seats and shouting, waking up babies and pets alike.
After the disappointment with the weather in the women’s slopestyle, there’s consolation in that snowboarding has still provided some of the best stories of the Games so far.