Month after playing Olympic bridesmaid to Shaun White, Japan’s Hirano gets long-awaited Burton U.S. Open win
VAIL — Ayumu Hirano has a stash of discontinued Nike snowboarding boots for occasions such as this.
The Japanese snowboarding sensation oozes style with everything he does, and in winning the halfpipe competition at the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships on Saturday, Hirano drew much praise from his peers.
“Ayumu is by far the most flawless snowboarder at the moment,” said Australian snowboarder Scotty James, who finished third in the Saturday final. “His execution, his amplitude, the way he lands tricks and the way he rotates is amazing to watch.”
Hirano said he has been wanting the U.S. Open win for a while.
“I’ve finished second and third here,” Hirano said through the aid of a translator. “This was the only missing piece for me.”
Hirano is a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alumnus who said he first sought out the program for the resources it could offer him.
“This place definitely feels like a second home to me,” Hirano said of Vail.
Eagle snowboarder Jake Pates, Hirano’s former teammate, finished sixth.
Second-place finisher Raibu Katayama, also from Japan, said Hirano and Taku Hiraoka (the Olympic bronze medalist from 2014), have inspired a generation of new snowboarders in Japan, himself included.
“They’re placing in competitions worldwide, and young kids are just going after them,” Katayama said through the aid of a translator.
James said Hirano, Katayama and himself are part of a new generation of snowboarders who will dictate where the sport goes.
“Obviously Shaun (White) was in front of the pack for a decade,” James said. “It’s really exciting for me and a lot of the other riders now that when we go up there, it’s anyone’s game.”
FOR THE FANS BACK HOME
In addition to a stockpile of rare snowboarding boots from Nike, Hirano — at only 19 years of age — already has two Olympic silver medals and a host of other big competition podiums including wins at X Games and now the Burton U.S. Open, as well.
Hirano said he became interested in the sport after seeing a generation of Japanese riders take to the halfpipe in front of him. Now he is trying to carry on the tradition for another generation to see and be inspired.
“One person needs to make a scene, internationally, through the contest scene, and then the younger generation is going to look up to that,” Hirano said. “I was one of the kids looking up to the older guys, and from there it makes you feel that you want to be like them, be just as good as them, so that’s why I started coming to the States to train, instead of staying in Japan.”
James said he, too, is trying to inspire those from his home country.
“Winning the medals and being a part of this is fantastic, but at the end of the day, it’s just an opportunity for my country to see what I do, what I’m so passionate about and what I work so hard for,” James said. “I think that it definitely has an impact on the future of snowboarding in Australia.”
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