The 2012 Summer Olympics in London had a number of superstars, including Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, the United States women’s gymnastics team and Usain Bolt among others.
If there is one athlete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi who could be considered a superstar stateside before the actual events take place, it would be snowboarder Shaun White.
White is the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in halfpipe snowboarding and is a one-man dynasty when it comes to the sport. He has countless X Games medals, plenty of endorsements, was known by the marketable nickname of the “Flying Tomato” and has reached legendary status even though he is still competing.
However, White pulled out of the slopestyle snowboarding event to focus solely on defending his crown in the halfpipe. Here is the schedule and broadcast information for the men’s halfpipe finals that will feature White:
Men’s Halfpipe Finals
Date: Feb. 11
Time: 12:30 p.m. ET, 9:30 p.m. Sochi time and 5:30 p.m. GMT
TV Broadcast: NBC 8 p.m. ET (rebroadcast) and BBC 5:30 p.m. GMT
White is dealing with an ankle injury, and if there was ever going to be a challenger to take the gold from him, it will be in these Olympics.
With that in mind, let’s dig into a discussion on some of White’s biggest competitors in the snowboarding event.
Ayumu Hirano, Japan
White’s biggest challenger for the gold just so happens to be 15 years old and the likely heir to White’s snowboarding throne.
Ayumu Hirano of Japan, otherwise known as “Mumu,” was the silver medalist at the 2013 X Games Superpipe behind White and featured back-to-back double-cork 1080s. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise considering the stage if Hirano tried to increase the level of difficulty of his tricks with a chance at gold on the line.
While he may be a threat to White, the American enjoys watching “Mumu,” per Jason Blevins of The Denver Post:
I love watching him ride. It's a nice reminder about the sport to me ... because he's not the biggest guy out there, and I'm not the biggest. It doesn't really make a difference, the size. It's all your mind-set and how you use the terrain, and he's a great example of that.
Hirano mixes style and poise with the ability to soar high into the air despite his slight frame. He should put on a show in Sochi.
Danny Davis, United States
White’s American teammate would have been in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver were it not for an accident on an all-terrain vehicle merely weeks before the Games.
Davis will finally get his chance at the Olympics podium in Sochi after winning a gold at the most recent X Games. He features a backside 360 and a McTwist and will likely try to bust them out at the Olympics.
After the crash that cost him a spot in 2010, Davis told Rachel Axon of USA Today that he is thrilled to have this chance:
I wasn't ready to be done. Like I've always said, to have the chance to go to Russia, to have the chance to be on an Olympic team, I'm psyched. It wouldn't have killed me if I didn't make it, but I'm very happy that I did and I'm very excited for the opportunity.
Look for him to take advantage of his chance in Sochi.
Yuri Podladchikov, Switzerland
Yuri Podladchikov will be competing for Switzerland, but he was actually born in the host country of Russia. Don’t be surprised if the home crowd pulls for him as he tries to unseat White atop the podium.
He finished just off the podium in fourth in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Podladchikov is known as “iPod,” and he won the 2012 World Snowboarding Championship after finishing in the top three in nine straight events. What’s more, “iPod” became the first snowboarder ever to successfully land a "Cab double cork 1440" in competition.
If he busts that out again in Sochi, a medal may be in the cards.
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