BARDONECCHIA, Italy – Japan’s hopes of a first snowboarding medal at the Winter Olympics suffered a major blow after all four riders in the men’s halfpipe event failed to make it through to the final on Sunday.
Having established themselves on the international circuit, Domu Narita and Kazuhiro Kokubo were tipped as possible podium finishers here. But both flopped badly while Takaharu Nakai and Fumiyuki Murakami also delivered lackluster performances on the Bardonecchia track.
Shaun White slipped up on the first qualification run but made it through at the second time of asking with a supercharged display that showed exactly why he is the gold medal favorite.
The 19-year-old American, nicknamed “the Flying Tomato,” because of his red hair, earned the top score of 45.3 in the elimination run to book his place along with world champion Antti Autti of Finland in the 12-man final.
Danny Kass, the 2002 silver medalist, was among the first six riders to advance to the final after finishing top in the first run.
Kokubo emerged as a medal candidate after a pair of victories on the World Cup circuit this winter, but he was the first to learn his fate after a poor landing, identical to the one he made in the first round saw him yield just 31.0 points.
“I don’t think I was overawed by the occasion or tried to play it safe. I think I just came undone before I could really give it 100 percent,” shrugged Kokubo.
“Obviously I wanted to make it to the final and the disappointment will linger but that has given me another reason to try harder to win a medal next time around,” he added.
Murakami was next to bow out, spoiling an otherwise solid run after a bad landing on his final 900 jump.
“That was the only mistake I made on the final nine but my performance was a bit rough around the edges,” said Murakami.
“I was really wound up this morning and so badly wanted to make it to the final. I’m disappointed but I guess I’ll just have to try again at the next Olympics.”
Despite a bright start, Narita was left banging his fists in the snow in frustration after he was eliminated and will now hope that his sister Melo Imai and Japan’s women riders come through in their halfpipe qualifiers.
“I’m absolutely crushed. The enjoyment of competing at the Olympics is double that of any other event but so is the disappointment when you lose. But I’ll be back again in four years time,” said Narita.
Nakai, who finished fifth in Salt Lake City, was steady if unspectacular but fell short of the mark and finished eighth in the second round, the highest placing by a Japanese rider.
“The reason I missed out was because I wasn’t strong-minded enough,” said Nakai, the only member of the quartet with Olympic experience.
“I was by far better in the air in practice. I thought I might just about squeeze into the final but that’s the way it goes,” he said.
Imai and 31-year-old veteran Soko Yamaoka will be looking to salvage pride for Japan when they take to the track on Monday.