Ayumu Hirano dethroning American Shaun White as the Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion marks the arrival of a new generation, but Japan's latest gold medalist said it was the megastar himself who pushed him to break new ground.
Hirano, who before Friday had two halfpipe Olympic silvers, said he pursued runs that made him stand out from the crowd at the Beijing Games. He did that by pulling off triple cork 1440s in all three trips down the pipe to become the first rider to land one in Olympic competition.
"I always wanted to persist in being unique," the 23-year-old said. "I thought it might be difficult to do this trick since there were no clues how to do it and no correct answers. But with this triple cork, I think it might have started a new era."
Hirano said he learned to take on new challenges from his hero White, who ended his final Olympic competition fourth at Genting Snow Park.
"He has always shown me his own challenges and I was moved by his performance today," he said. "He is the oldest athlete in this sport for this event, so I am sure there are a lot of emotions for things I couldn't even imagine."
"Delivering his best in such a situation, and just riding at this venue itself is much more important than the result itself, and that is a great message for everybody. It pushed me forward and I was empowered," Hirano said.
An emotional White was asked to talk about those snowboarders riding in his wake, saying, "Everybody was asking me what my legacy in this sport has been and, like, you're watching these younger riders."
"They've been on my heels every step of the way and to see (Hirano) finally surpass me is, I think deep down, what I always wanted. You know, to be beaten, to finally walk away." the 35-year-old said.
Before White left the athlete interview area, he hugged Hirano to congratulate him and said, "Let's go skateboard this summer."
Skateboarding is one of the passions White and Hirano share, with Hirano switching to the sport after the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. He achieved that feat before returning to deal with some unfinished business on the snow.
"Doing something completely different from snowboarding had a positive influence, mentally. It was a big challenge and the experience gave me great confidence, it helped make me stronger," Hirano said.
Now that he has achieved all the goals he set over the past four years, Hirano said wants to relax and recuperate.
"After that, I want to think about the journey ahead of me," he said. "I want to keep following that path by finding and believing in new challenges."