Following 13-year-old Kokomo Murase’s stunning victory in the women’s big air at X Games Norway – which appears to herald the dawn of a new era in female competition – Takeru Otsuka completed a clean sweep for Japan with gold in the men’s event on Saturday night.
Otsuka is not exactly a veteran himself, having barely turned 18 when he arrived in Oslo for the biggest contest of his career to date. Althought he was recently crowned the World Rookie Champion, few outside his native country will have heard of him before now, still less given him a chance against a packed field that included the likes of Olympic champion Seb Toots, Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, Chris Corning and the boy wonder Marcus Kleveland.
“Where Otsuka’s career goes from here is anyone’s guess”
Nevertheless, we had been warned. When Japan’s best known big air star Yuki Kadono got dropped from the national team prior to the PyeongChang Olympics amidst rumours of being in the vicinity of a fragrant cigarette, people thought the notoriously strict federation was shooting itself in the foot. As McMorris put it, it was “their loss at the end of the day.”
What the coaches knew better, however, was just how deep the Japanese squad is these days, and they duly promoted one of the youngsters in Yuki’s stead, figuring they didn’t need to put up with any mavericks.
On Saturday, the world learned more about the enviable talent at their disposal when first Murase and then Otsuka came out of left field to claim victory (incidentally, Burton Snowboards will presumably be pretty stoked – they sponsor both young riders).
Otsuka’s winning run came courtesy of a frontside triple cork 1440 followed by a cab triple 1440, stomped to perfection. It was enough to squeeze the local hero Marcus Kleveland into silver, who on his comeback from injury showed little sign of ring rustiness with a backside 1440 and a ridiculous cab 1620 indy. Meanwhile, Yuki Kadono was completing his own rehabilitation at this event, though he unfortunately failed to join his compatriot on the podium.
Where Otsuka’s career goes from here is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say he’ll be a little less under the radar when the ‘X Games proper’ roll around in Aspen next winter. At time of writing, the trending search term around his name on google was “Takeru Otsuka instagram”. Kleveland can at least console himself that in this regard, he has a head start to the tune of 330,000 followers.