The trick that uncorked a gold-medal run for Hirano

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ayumu Hirano, center, poses with younger brother Kaishu, left, in a group photo after winning the gold medal on Friday.

BEIJING — For Ayumu Hirano, it wasn’t a big finish that gave him the gold medal in the men’s halfpipe, but the mind-boggling way he started his winning run at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Ayumu Hirano became the first snowboarder to successfully land a triple cork 1440 in Olympic competition, and he did it on all three of his runs in claiming his first gold in his third Olympics.

The trick, which only Hirano had done in previous competitions, consists of spinning four times while simultaneously completing three vertical flips — the “cork” name comes from the corkscrew motion, much like opening a wine bottle, and “1440” from calculating four rotations of 360 degrees.

Four years ago, the competition at the Pyeongchang Olympics came down to a fierce battle of top riders doing a double cork 1440. Hirano took it to another level by adding a cork, making it the most difficult of the air maneuvers.

Hirano had the top score of the qualifying round on Wednesday without attempting the trick. But in Friday’s final, in which the highest score among the three runs determined the winner, he boldly went for it from the first run.

Scotty James of Australia, the three-time reigning world champion, set the bar high when he took the lead with a score of 92.50 points in his second run, using his long limbs in a dynamic performance of graceful tricks. Hirano followed with a solid run that included the triple cork, but only received 91.75 points, leaving many observers stunned.

“I couldn’t understand it because [my] trick was far more difficult,” Hirano said. “But I focused [on the third run] while channeling that anger.”

Facing the difficult situation in which a higher score was absolutely necessary to win the gold medal, Hirano knew the triple cork was the key. Repeating his routine from the second run, he added height and precision to each trick, which all six judges rewarded with higher scores than for the second run.

He scored 96.00 out of a maximum 100, and the gold was his.

“Of all the rides I’ve made, including practice, I save my best for the last of the last,” Hirano said.

When the results were made official declaring him the new Olympic champion, Hirano exchanged a hug with younger brother Kaishu, who also competed in the final and shared in his sibling’s joy.

“One of my childhood dreams has finally come true,” said a beaming Hirano.