Pipe Dreams

February 18th, 2010

Shaun White and Scott Lago of the USA celebrate gold and bronze. Image – Dan Himbrechts

The 2010 Men’s Olympic halfpipe account.

Words by Russell Holt

The size of the smile on 15-year old Scotty James from Australia said it all.
As the youngest snowboarder to ever compete at an Olympics, he now stood at the bottom of the Olympic halfpipe in front of hundreds of millions of fans watching from the stands and through the world wide TV broadcast. All eyes were on him – watching in amazement at what this young man had achieved, you could tell he could feel the world was with him.

Scotty had just successfully finished his second run of the qualifiers and the young Australian boy had landed his run for the first time today. Huge cheers had erupted from the crowd who were sharing in the moment with him. His grin was from ear-to-ear and the look in his eyes as the camera zoomed in for a close up was one of utter disbelief and elation – he was living the dream he had carried for all his young life.

It was an historic moment for Snowboarding and Australia that will never be forgotten.

Ben Mates – The style riddler
Fast forward two hours and Ben Mates, another Australian, veteran of the Torino Olympics and self-funded Olympian was fighting in the 12-man Semi-final for a top 6 finish and a birth in the Final.
The double-cork tricks that hade become mandatory, had been eluding Benny in the lead up to the games so he stuck to his guns and went for amplitude and powder over the new spin to win philosophy. He had fallen in his first run and had one more chance at it.

Ben Mates in action. Image – Dan Himbrechts

Dropping in with huge speed, white Australia team jacket flapping in the wind and the gold team pants gleaming up the transition, he launched himself into the stratosphere of the Cypress Mountain sky above Vancouver. A frontside 900 15-feett above the lip, a backside 540 into a humungous air to fakie melon – it must be pushing the 20 foot mark and it’s boned like only Matesy can bone-em.

He landed switch and fired straight into a super slow huge cab 720 followed by an even bigger and slower frontside 720 that he floated over the finish line. Without the double corks, it’s only enough to give him a 26.0, but it didn’t matter, Ben had just had the run of his life stomped the crap out of it and shown the world how amazing snowboarding can look even without 1260’s and double corks. And that is what snowboarding at the Olympics is all about.

In the End there is only one winner

With the Aussie boys rendered to spectators, the final 12 riders gathered to do battle at the top of the pipe. It was a 7:15pm night-pipe final (made popular by the Winter X-Games success with night events) and the pipe was in immaculate condition. Luck would have it that the torrential rain and warm weather that hampered training for the lead-up week, was swept away by God’s hand just in time to create a perfect finals halfpipe. (-1 C snow and a 0-2 C balmy air temp.)

Shaun White: elated. Image – Jake McBride

There was only one man for the gold, Shaun White always going to win, the American would not; could not, fail – the weight of universal expectations were upon him. Only God himself could stop Shaun White tonight.

White went last on the finals start list and as soon as he dropped for his first run, his speed, power and stability of his riding saw him launching a 5-air run that averaged 15-20 foot out from the top of the lip each hit. He was so far better then everyone else it was incredible. No one could touch his first run score, an amazing 46.8, except himself when he bettered it with his final Victory lap and scored a 48.4. He achieved the close to perfect score by throwing in what the crowd wanted – his much publicized McTwist double cork 1260. It was another momentous moment in snowboarding history and up there with his last Olympic Victroy lap four years ago in Torino when he carved and slashed down the pipe like a surfer riding a wave.

Peetu Pirroinen of Finland and Kazuhiro Kokubo of Japan were the only real threats to Shaun, but he still managed to stay clear of second place Peetu by more than four points. And Kazu couldn’t stay on his feet on his last double cork over the line.

Men’s Halfpipe Trick of the Games

The easy answer would be to say Shaun White’s McTwist Double Cork 1260 was the trick of the night (and most general media will say that). But to the trained eye it was not the trick of the night and far from perfect. Shaun was actually very lucky to even land on his feet. A loss of speed going into the trick after scrubbing the landing on the previous jump meant Shaun had to let go of the spin early – mid trick and really tweak his body around at the last minute to land on his feet – he managed it in true super-human Shaun White form.
The trick of the Games in our eyes doesn’t go to SW, it goes to Kazuhiro Kokubo from Japan. Kazu was doing the most incredibly stylish McTwist Japan’s (chicken wing) about 15 feet out of the pipe and floating weightlessly forever. He would hold the tweak till you thought he was about to land on his belly, (he would hold onto the grab until he was below the lip) when he would toe-edge under himself effortlessly and speed off to the other wall. It was poetry in motion, artistry of the board, the rasta ninja had us all dreamy eyed.

The women’s halfpipe event kicks off tomorrow, with Australia’s Torah Bright looking to win her first gold medal and perhaps throw the first ever double cork in women’s competition.

To follow Torah’s event, check out the LiveBlog commentary of Olympic events

All the latest results and medal tally

The 2010 Australian Winter Olympic Team

Athlete profiles