by Cass Waters
Shaun White rode to his fifth Burton U.S. Open halfpipe victory underneath sunny skies Saturday morning with textbook moves and a pipe run that has been holding challengers at bay for years. He is now tied with the Olympic halfpipe legend who preceded him, Danny Kass, for the most U.S. Open pipe wins.
The story of the day, however, was the showing made by 14-year-old Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, who went as high — if not higher — out of the pipe than White. The score disparity (84 versus 92) between Hirano’s and White’s first runs, was not without controversy. Kevin Pearce, commentating live on the U.S. Open webcast claimed that Hirano’s first run was as good as White’s, and the Twitter universe exploded with protest when Hirano’s first-run score was posted. Asked afterward whether he was disappointed with his first-run score, Hirano smiled and replied, “Yes.”
White stepped up and solidly won the event with his second run of the day, however, which included back-to-back double cork 1080s followed by a back-to-back double McTwist 1260 to frontside double cork 12 — the last trick, White claimed, “was the best I’ve ever landed.”
Hirano improved his score on his second run, but it wasn’t enough to overtake White, and he fell on the final hit of his third run. One thing is clear: Hirano, who will turn 15 just months before the 2014 Olympics, which makes him eligible to compete, is positioned to become one of White’s biggest challengers in the pipe in Sochi.
“I love watching him ride,” said White, of Hirano, “because he’s not the biggest guy out there … but it doesn’t make a difference. It’s mindset and how you use the terrain. … He’s a great example of that.” White will not ride in any more competitions this season. “It’s a big mountain I have to climb, going for halfpipe and slopestyle in the Olympics,” White said of the decision. “I’m trying to take on both, so I need the practice.”
Because of White’s decision to not compete in the final halfpipe contest of the TTR World Snowboard Tour season, Hirano, whose placement in Saturday’s competition put him at the top of the Halfpipe Tour points board, has become the official 2013 WST Halfpipe Champion. White was the only person who had enough points to potentially beat him. Mark McMorris, who won the U.S. Open Slopestyle contest Friday also took the 2013 WST Slopestyle Champion title.
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