Hirano’s long persistency paid off in gold

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ayumu Hirano completes an unprecedented triple cork 1440 in the men’s halfpipe final at the Beijing Olympics on Friday.

Whether on a skateboard or a snowboard, Ayumu Hirano was always in motion as a child, when he launched a perpetual quest for glory that culminated with an elusive Olympic gold by executing a maneuver never before seen in competition.

Hirano nailed a triple cork 1440 — a mind-boggling three flips and four rotations — in all three of his runs in the final of the men’s snowboard halfpipe on Friday, giving him a well-earned gold at the Beijing Winter Olympics after settling for silver in the previous two Games.

“It’s a trick that no one had landed before,” the 23-year-old Hirano said. “I guess this means the times have changed.”

Hirano took up the two board sports at the age of 4, following in the path of an older brother three years his senior. Summers were spent skateboarding at a facility set up by his father, Hidenori, in Murakami, Niigata Prefecture, while winters were dedicated to snowboarding.

While generally quiet in nature, he possesses a fierce fighting spirit. When his brother would decide to call it a day on the slopes, Hirano would tenaciously continue practicing. “I’m not stopping,” he would declare.

One time during training, Hirano broke his arm in a fall on a snowy mountain, but kept silent about it. When his coach at the time, Yoshito Kudo, sensed something was wrong and asked him about it, Hirano replied, “If I tell you I’m in pain, I won’t be able to practice.”

He was immediately taken to the hospital, only to return to the slopes the next day — his arm in a cast.

Hirano has, since childhood, gone through life at his own pace. If his parents bought him clothes he did not like, he would refuse to wear them. The color of outfits, the way he wore them, even the position of his goggles down to the last millimeter were decided by looking in a full-length mirror.

He has never compared himself to others, nor mentioned a sporting hero that he wishes to emulate.

Hirano began competing overseas as a sixth grader in elementary school. In his graduation book, he wrote that he would become “No. 1 in the world in snowboarding and skateboarding.”

He came close as a third-year junior high school student, when he became the youngest Japanese medalist in Winter Olympic history by taking the halfpipe silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He surprised many people at the time by casually commenting, “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be.”

Four years later at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Hirano had to settle for silver again when American rival Shaun White won his third gold medal.

Nine months after that, Hirano announced he would compete in skateboarding, which had been added to program of the Summer Olympics. “I want to do things that no one else is doing,” he said candidly as the reason for becoming a top two-way athlete.

He practiced skateboarding early in the morning and at night, while honing his snowboarding skills during the day.

“It’s was unbelievable how hard he worked,” said younger brother Kaishu, who witnessed Ayumu’s efforts up close and also competed in Beijing. “That made me realize that getting to the Olympics is not so easy.”

At the Tokyo Olympics last summer, Hirano failed to advance to the final in skateboarding, but finally came up golden at the Beijing Games. White was among the fellow athletes who congratulated him in the finish area.

“I gave everything I have,” Hirano said with a smile. “I think I could deliver a performance that left no doubts for anyone.”