SNOWBOARDING/ Japanese junior high school student looms as threat to Shaun White

February 01, 2014

By KOSUKE INAGAKI/ Senior Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which kick off on Feb. 7.

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Although he had yet to be picked for the Japanese Olympic team, a junior high school student received tremendous accolades from Sports Illustrated.

In its Dec. 16, 2013 edition, SI ran a story headlined “Air Apparent” about an up-and-coming snowboarder. The subhead said, “He’s only 15, but Ayumu Hirano is the biggest threat to Shaun White’s Olympic dominance.”

White is an American snowboarder and two-time Olympic champion in the halfpipe event.

Hirano began snowboarding when he was 4. He says that at first he watched nothing but DVDs of White’s performances.

The Japanese media have portrayed past Japanese snowboarders as favorites to win Olympic medals. But so far, no one has won so much as a bronze.

Regardless of how many times Japanese snowboarders win World Cup competitions sponsored by the International Ski Federation (FIS), they have been unable to threaten the 27-year-old White in the past two Winter Olympics.

White mainly competes in the X Games sponsored by the ESPN network of the United States.

In January 2013, Hirano entered an X Games competition featuring some of the best snowboarders around. He finished second, becoming the youngest medalist in those games. He successfully pulled off a double-cork 1080 to beat such rivals as American Scott Lago, who won the bronze medal at the Vancouver Games, and compatriots Kazuhiro Kokubo, who finished eighth at Vancouver, and Ryo Aono, the 2009 world champion.

White also expressed surprise at the 14-year-old silver medalist.

At the U.S. Open in March 2013, Hirano finished second again, behind White.

Hirano had to wait until last summer to clear the minimum age limit to compete in World Cup events. He marked his debut by winning the gold medal. According to FIS, Hirano is the youngest to win any World Cup skiing event.

Those achievements gained him a place on the Japanese Olympic team on Jan. 14.

Four years ago, Hirano watched the Vancouver Games on TV at his family’s home in Murakami, Niigata Prefecture.

He says if he is to compete at Sochi, he will shoot for the gold medal, but he has not revealed what tricks he would use in his halfpipe run. There is the possibility that he will put together a series of double-corks.

Despite his constant watching of White DVDs when he started out, Hirano now says: “There is no athlete I really admire right now. What is important is my own style.”

In only his third year of junior high school, Hirano must deal with such youth problems as pimples, but his responses about competition seem to come from someone much older.

White also displayed a new trick over the Internet in late 2013, indicating he is ready to defend his gold medal at Sochi. He completed a double-cork 1440 and pumped his fists in the air after completing the landing.

Laying out a challenge to all of his rivals at Sochi, White said that maneuver would be the standard to determine who wins the gold medal.

By KOSUKE INAGAKI/ Senior Staff Writer
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Ayumu Hirano, center, wins his first World Cup title in August 2013 in Wanaka in New Zealand. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Ayumu Hirano, center, wins his first World Cup title in August 2013 in Wanaka in New Zealand. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Ayumu Hirano, center, wins his first World Cup title in August 2013 in Wanaka in New Zealand. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Ayumu Hirano soars above the lip during the World Cup U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe snowboarding finals on Dec. 21, 2013, in Frisco, Colo. (AP photo)
  • Shaun White during an interview in Tokyo in December 2010 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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