SOCHI, RUSSIA – U.S. snowboard legend Shaun White on Wednesday cast doubt over the Olympic chances of rising star Ayumu Hirano — saying Sochi may have come too early for the precocious teenager.
White, 27, the two-time defending champion in the men’s halfpipe, is expected to face stiff competition from the new kid on the block in Russia.
Hirano has only just turned 15 and stands just 160 cm tall, but finished second behind White at the 2013 Winter X-Games in Colorado and has set tongues wagging in the sport.
But asked whether he felt Hirano could topple him this year, White, who on Wednesday pulled out of the slopestyle to focus on his bid for gold in the halfpipe, suggested the competition had perhaps come too early for the boarder from Murakami, Niigata Pref.
“Definitely everyone’s got a great chance to do well and he (Hirano) especially has potential to put out a great run,” said White.
“He goes really big out of the halfpipe, he’s smooth, he’s consistent, the only thing that . . . it’s tough to say, I remember being his age competing, it’s a tough position to be in.”
“It’s his first Olympics,” White continued. “I’m hoping he has the best performance he can and has the time of his life being at the Olympics because it’s an amazing thing.
“I’m definitely watching for him to see what his run’s going to be. (But) I feel like he’s going to really have to pull some runs together to challenge myself and some of the other competitors in the halfpipe.”
Hirano has caused a lot of excitement over the past 12 months, winning his first World Cup event in New Zealand in August and finishing as World Snowboard Tour halfpipe champion last year.
He even soared 5½ meters out of the halfpipe in Aspen, leading many to suggest he can get more air than any other snowboarder.
Another competitor on White’s mind is Swiss competitor Iouri Podladtchikov, who stunned onlookers last year at the Tignes X-Games event by pulling off the first ever cab double cork 1440, otherwise known as a Yolo Flip, in the final of the men’s superpipe.
“I was impressed. I was really happy for him, not only him but for me. It took me to this amazing place where I needed a new trick and this was something that was a nice departure from what I’d been working on previously,” said White.
“But not only that. It’s something new, brand new in sport. I was excited about the challenge ahead and what I needed to do to learn that trick and perfect that trick, and then continue on with the other tricks that I had previously set out to do.”