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Hirano wins silver medal at Pyeongchang in snowboard halfpipe

Ayumu Hirano holds up the Japanese flag after winning an Olympic silver medal in the men's snowboard halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano clinched silver in men's halfpipe at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Feb. 14, with a score of 95.25.

With his performance, Hirano brought in the second silver medal and fourth medal overall for team Japan at the Pyeongchang Games. Shaun White of the United States won gold with a score of 97.75. In third place was Scotty James of Australia with a score of 92.00. Japan's Raibu Katayama, 22, came in seventh, while Yuto Totsuka, 16, fell during his second run, preventing him from taking a third run and leaving him in 11th place.

Hirano's win came from his impressive airs and technical ability to flip higher than his competitors. The snowboarder competed in his first Olympics in Sochi, Russia at the age of 15, and became the youngest Japanese athlete ever to take a medal at a Winter Games when he won silver. Now, at 19, he has claimed his second silver medal.

While his first run ended in failure, Hirano took a daring gamble with his second run, landing two different types of "double cork 1440" -- a double vertical and quadruple horizontal flip midair -- on alternating legs. The gamble paid off, and Hirano shot to the top of the ranks with a dominating score of 95.25. However, he was unable to best his score in the final run, and was overtaken by 2006 Torino and 2010 Vancouver gold medalist Shaun White, who earned a dominating 97.75 points.

Ayumu Hirano jumps during his second run in the snowboard halfpipe final at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

While soaring jumps and complicated flips in the air tend to catch the eye of halfpipe spectators, it is the high technical skill between those moves, when the snowboarder passes through the bottom of the pipe, known as the "bottom run," that makes it possible for the snowboarder to perform them.

"He follows the lines perfectly and flies off the lip (the edge of the halfpipe) perpendicularly," said Japanese team coach Daisuke Murakami. If a snowboarder slides down the pipe diagonally downhill, then their speed increases. Instead, Hirano snowboards transversely, allowing him to move toward the lip nearly perpendicularly, which enables him to rise to the highest position. It is precisely because Hirano executes this ideal style that he can perform highly difficult techniques one after the other while maintaining height.

Hirano's technique is born out of polishing those exact skills of skateboarding at a facility in Niigata Prefecture that his father Hidenori, 46, operated since Hirano was young. Unlike snowboarding, a skateboard has wheels and the boarder's feet are not strapped down, meaning that even the slightest mistake in the timing of a jump can end in disaster. His experience on a skateboard has more than paid off. "He can execute his jumps as with perfect timing as easily as breathing," Snowboarding magazine editor Daisuke Nogami said.

"Because the Olympics are particularly high-profile, I want to convey the appeal of snowboarding to people who may not be familiar with it," said Hirano, who no doubt succeeded in broadcasting his message with his powerful performance.

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