PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - With just one athlete left to go in the Olympic men’s halfpipe competition on Wednesday, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano had a gold medal in his hands.
Unfortunately for the 19-year-old, that man was Shaun White.
The American delivered when it mattered as he has done so many times in his illustrious career with a stunning run to score 97.75, overtaking Hirano’s 95.25 to win his third Olympic title.
As White’s result was announced, Hirano looked devastated but the Japanese, who also won silver in Sochi four years ago aged 15, said he just had to accept that White out-classed him on the day.
“I do think the judging was fair and it was the right result,” Hirano told Reuters. “Shaun deserved to win with his performance today.”
Australian Scotty James, who claimed the bronze medal, had been critical of the judging coming into the Olympics, particularly with regard to White’s perfect score of 100 at last month’s U.S. Grand Prix.
“It could have gone either way between Shaun and Ayumu. If you look back at the details it would be interesting to see,” he said. “Shaun knows these moments and just delivers.”
Hirano admitted there was not much more he could do to score higher than 95.25 and was already looking ahead to competing with White in years to come.
“The run I laid down today was the hardest possible that I could do, so next time I just need to execute them better, that is all,” Hirano said.
“Shaun just gets more air on his tricks, which is the main difference between us.
“I will take a little break and then I need to focus on what I need to do in order to improve to get to the gold level.”
Aged 19 and with two Olympic medals under his belt, Hirano has the snowboarding world at his feet.
However, a little part of him must be hoping that the 31-year-old White, his nemesis on the biggest stage of all, does not deliver on his promise to compete again in Beijing in four years time.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond