The men's snowboarding halfpipe event is one of the most exciting Olympic competitions at the 2014 Winter Games, and there are a few worldwide superstars who enter as favorites to win the gold.
Snowboarders from around the world are preparing themselves to launch into the air at high speeds while performing a variety of twists, flips and turns. This is not your grandparents' Olympics, but the spirit of competition is the same.
Every rider goes into the Olympics with one goal in mind: win the gold medal.
Shaun White of the United States comes into the Games as the two-time defending champion, but he'll need to bust out all of his tricks to defeat the top challengers to his crown.
Here's a closer look at White and the other top contenders in the upcoming halfpipe event.
Shaun White, USA
For many, this list begins and ends with White, who will be looking for his third consecutive gold medal in this event. However, there's a growing number of young riders who are coming up with new, more difficult tricks that will be tough for White to beat if they can land a clean run.
It's worth noting that it's a big "if."
For well over a decade, White has proved himself as the most technically sound halfpipe rider in the world, and he's constantly innovating new ways to express himself in the pipe. His gold-medal-winning run in Vancouver four years ago was proof of that, as he busted out and landed a Double McTwist 1260 (Tomahawk) in the final run.
He famously pulled out of the inaugural slopestyle competition in Sochi to focus solely on winning his third gold in the halfpipe.
“With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications, and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on,” White told NBC, via John Powers of the Boston Globe.
Certainly, he put even more of a bull's-eye on his back with the move. But given the way White's backed up every move he's ever made on the pipe, the pressure's liable to slide right off his back.
Ayumu Hirano, Japan
White, at the age of 27, is looking behind him at the next generation, and Japan's Ayumu Hirano is the guy looking back at him.
There's no need to search for the next Shaun White; he's already here.
"Mumu," as he's known on tour, is a 15-year-old phenom who finished in second place behind White at the 2013 Winter X Games, featuring back-to-back double-cork 1080s to earn his silver medal. He unfortunately withdrew from the 2014 X Games while recovering from a foot injury sustained in practice.
Like White, Hirano isn't a big guy, which makes him all the more watchable, according to 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.
To this point in his young career, Hirano's mindset has been all about winning. He seems impervious to pressure, and if anyone is going to dethrone White at the 2014 Winter Games, then my money's on Hirano to sit in his stead.
Danny Davis, USA
While both White and Hirano sat out the 2014 Winter X Games, Danny Davis took the opportunity to shine, winning gold with an impressive score of 95.0.
He would have been a favorite to win in 2010 if not for a devastating back injury in an ATV accident that occurred while he was celebrating a first-place finish ahead of the Games. He had been on a tear before the injury, which helped him endure the brutal recovery period.
He knew he had more left in the tank.
"I wasn't ready to be done," Davis told Rachel Axon of USA Today. "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."
Based on his excellent showing at the X Games, Davis could finally get his chance to shine on an Olympic stage this winter in Sochi.
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