U.S. snowboard great Shaun White began his bid for a third Olympic gold in convincing style, easily separating himself at the top of qualifying for the men's halfpipe at the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Tuesday.
Among the Japanese, Ayumu Hirano, who is looking to go one better than his 2014 Sochi silver medal, booked a place in the finals with the third-best qualifying score. Raibu Katayama and Yuto Totsuka also advanced while Sochi bronze medalist Taku Hiraoka narrowly failed to make the cut.
White led the field on his first run with 93.25 points, only to one-up himself with a near-perfect 98.50-point second run, landing a series of high-octane airs including his signature double McTwist 1260.
"I was stoked to put that (first) run down, that took the pressure and the edge off and then I started seeing everyone putting these great runs in and I figured I would step it up. They motivated me to send it on that last one," he said.
The 31-year-old "Flying Tomato," as he is known for his shock of red hair, is looking to add to his first-place finishes at the 2006 and 2010 Games to become the first snowboarder to win three Olympic gold medals in any single event.
Australian Scotty James, winner of the last two world championships in 2015 and 2017, landed back-to-back 1260s in an impressive run that put him in second with 96.75 points.
Hirano, who is gunning for Japan's first Olympic snowboard gold, made it look easy on his second effort as he stomped all of his tricks cleanly for 95.25 points.
"I just treated it like any other run. It's a qualifier, so I played it safe," the 19-year-old said.
Katayama scored a solid 90.75 points to advance to Wednesday's finals with the fifth-best score in his first Olympic event.
"I was nervous last night, but once I was about to start I was oddly relaxed. For the finals, I'm going to worry less about how I place and more about doing my best," he said.
Sixteen-year-old Totsuka, whose performance early in the session was good enough for 80.00 and 10th place, said "I was stiff as a board on my first run, being the first one up and all. I chose a program I was comfortable with, so it's to be expected that I didn't get a higher score."
Fighting a figurative uphill battle after losing his balance at the bottom of the pipe on the first run, Hiraoka put on a decent performance on his next visit in which he strung together three consecutive 1080s, but with 75.75 points, it was only good enough for 13th place and not sufficient to give him another shot at a medal.
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