Hirano Ayumu wins halfpipe crown in Mammoth as Shaun White opts out of final
USA legend Shaun White opted out of the U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe finals in Mammoth Mountain while Japan's Hirano Ayumu scooped the event honours to cap a busy day of snowboard action that also saw Tomita Ruki win the women’s pipe and American pair Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson rule the slopestyle.
Shaun White, the three-time Olympic champion hoping to make it four golds in Beijing next month, opted not to participate in the nighttime men's snowboard halfpipe finals of the U.S. Grand Prix World Cup event in Mammoth Mountain, California on Saturday (8 January).
White had qualified for the finals earlier in the day with a third-place finish in heat two of the preliminary rounds. But after coming down hard in the flats, the American decided not to take part in the final competition, which was won by two-time Olympic silver medallist Hirano Ayumu of Japan who recently became the first man to land a triple cork in competition.
Hirano Ruka finished second and Germany’s Andre Hoeflich rounded out the podium in third.
Beijing concerns for legendary White
White did not want to risk aggravating an ankle issue according to U.S. Olympic Ski and Snowboard head coach Mike Jankowski.
"If you're off a bit and you're not feeling your 'A' game, at this level, at night in the icy white, it's risky as you know so he decided to take a break," explained Jankowski.
The U.S. team needs to be finalised by 21 January.
"(White) just wants to train and keep working hard and keep getting better," Jankowski was quoted by NBC Sports. "He's hoping the spot where's at now holds solid and that he's able to get the nomination to the team."
White, who was cleared to participate at the Grand Prix in Mammoth after recovering from a recent bout with Covid-19, now has to wait and see if his performances so far this season are enough to earn him a place in his fifth U.S. Olympic team with only weeks to go before the Beijing Games.
The complete U.S. snowboard team roster for the Olympics is expected to be announced in the coming days.
Despite failing to podium in his last four events, the 35-year-old White is still eligible to be selected for Team USA ahead of the Beijing Games.
Before the Mammoth Mountain withdrawal, White, currently ranked outside the world top-ten and fourth among American men, finished fourth in Aspen at a Grand Prix event, eighth in December in Copper Mountain, Colorado and seventh at the most recent Dew Tour stop (also in Copper Mountain) where a binding break on his opening run set him off on a difficult road.
Tomita sisters take two of top-three
The Tomita sisters dominated the top-three of the women’s snowboard halfpipe finals, with Ruki finishing in first with her first-ever World Cup win and Sena coming in third. Wedged between the Japanese siblings was People’s Republic of China’s three-time Olympian Cai Xuetong, who took silver by rebounding with a strong run after falling hard in her first.
The women's snowboard halfpipe competition was held without a single American competitor.
Olympic gold-medal winner Chloe Kim and PyeongChang 2018 participant Maddie Maestro, who suffered a bad crash at last month’s Dew Tour stop in Copper Mountain, both opted out in order to focus on their Beijing 2022 preparations.
USA pair own snowboard slopestyle
Rescheduled from Friday, a day that saw dangerous and gusty winds bring a total halt to competition, Saturday’s slopestyle action took place in perfect weather.
Gerard top in men's
Gerard, the 2018 Olympic slopestyle gold-medal winner from Colorado, needed an impressive second run in Mammoth to seal his second World Cup win this season after topping the Dew Tour on his home turf of Copper Mountain last month.
After falling on his first effort, Gerard's solid second go (with a score of 82.88) was enough to top a lacklustre men’s slopestyle finals that was led for a large portion by unheralded Dutch boarder Niek van der Velden with a score in the 70s. The compacted two-run format saw several falls and uncharacteristic mistakes on landings from veteran riders.
“I've just wanted to keep up with the contests and get that momentum going and get ready for the Olympics,” said a relieved Gerrard who edged Van der Velden (silver) and Tiarn Collins of New Zealand (bronze) and who is looking a good bet to defend the Olympic gold he won in the Republic of Korea when competition begins in Beijing on 4 February.
“It's been coming down to the final runs for me a lot lately and it's a little nerve-racking,” added the 21-year-old American. “When I went to the Olympics four years ago I felt like my brain wasn't fully developed. This time I'm just looking to enjoy it and all we need to do is get America on the podium.”
Anderson back with a bang
Team USA veteran Jamie Anderson threw down a switch double 1080 to cap her second run in the women's final.
It was a bold move, and the two-time gold medallist’s impressive 86.32 score forced Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand and Japan’s Kokomo Murase to press their luck in their subsequent runs.
Both the pre-event favourites crashed in the jump sections and the 31-year-old Anderson walked away with the slopestyle gold.
“It’s the first time I’ve landed that trick in a slopestyle run,” Anderson said after the win. “I really just huffed and puffed and prayed – and when I stomped it I was shocked and wondered: ‘did that just happen?’”
“It feels good, especially after falling in my first run,” added the American, who struggled to a seventh-place finish in the Dew Tour event in Copper Mountain last month. “I’m really happy. It feels great to put it down when the pressure is on. I’m happy to be back on top here.”
Sadowski-Synnott finished second with a score of 82.50 and Murase third with a 77.94.
Tomorrow (Sunday 9 February) will see the last of the rescheduled U.S. Grand Prix events with the men’s and women’s freestyle skiing slopestyle qualifiers and finals.