Australia’s snowboard superstar Scotty James feels he’s right where he wants to be, despite qualifying second for the men’s halfpipe Olympic medal round.
The three medallists from the last Games, including three-time Olympic champion Shaun White, all qualified as well as 16-year-old Australian Valentino Guseli to set the scene for an epic showdown on Friday.
James was not fazed by being second behind Japan’s gun Ayumu Hirano, saying he was targeting the top three in qualifying.
“I’m really happy with the result, we stuck to our plan,” 27-year-old James said.
“The plan was to put it together on the first run and feel good and then just build on it and work on anything that I felt needed a little bit more perfection and I was able to do that so I’m super happy.
“It’s not annoying not to qualify first – it didn’t really matter – it’s just nice to drop late as it helps you forecast a bit better of what’s going to happen and what it’s going to take.”
James, who won bronze in 2018, led after the first qualification round on Wednesday and then traded places with dual silver medallist Hirano, who pulled out some fiendishly difficult tricks.
“Nothing surprises me. I know everything,” James said. “I know what’s happening, I watch every single trick. Who’s doing what, what their plan is for finals.
White and Guseli had to lay down big second runs after early hiccups, with the American moving through to the final in fourth place, one ahead of Guseli.
James’s top score came in his second run, when he scored 91.25 and was only bested by Hirano, who was rewarded with 93.25 for his second outing.
But neither frontrunner delivered snowboarding’s most difficult trick, the triple cork,
Guseli rebounded from a disappointing first run when he failed to exit an early jump cleanly to qualify fifth, scoring 85.75 with his second effort.
White, who will after retire after Beijing, his fifth Olympics, also blew his first run but nailed his second with an 86.25.
Guseli said he was relieved to be able to deliver on the second run to book his spot in the 12-man final.
“I just made a little mistake that I’ve never made on that trick ever,” Guseli said. “I knew that in two tries that if I messed up the first one then I’d be able to do the second one, if we’re thinking logically.”
James kept it fairly simple with his opening run signing off with two double cork 1260s to score 88.25 to take top spot.
In the second run the four-time Olympian finished with a frontside 1440 tail-grab and yelled with delight, punching the air. He said he was the first time he would used the combination in competition.
Aruymu’s brother Ruka Hirano qualified in third while compatriot, world champion Yuto Totsuka was also in the top six. “Japan are a force, they are incredible,” James said
James was in the midst of a media huddle when White put down his impressive second run, scoring 86.25, to easily qualify, pausing to watch the 35-year-old in action.
“It was a super good run but I was expecting him to put it down, it’s Shaun White,” he said.
“Everyone’s keen to see him in the finals in his last Games.”
Earlier Emily Arthur missed the cut-off to advance to the final of the women’s halfpipe competition, with American defending Olympic champion Chloe Kim posting the top score.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism