After yesterday's slopestyle finals were sadly cancelled due to some rather unfamiliar inclement weather here in Laax, we were frothing to see some action go down in the pipe today. Thankfully, Michael Fish must have blessed us from his La-Z-Boy back in ol' blighty as what started as a cold and snowy morning slowly blossomed into one of bluebird skies and sunshine - but not before the women's pipe finals had finished sadly, with flat light and snow making their three runs in the finals a tricky affair. It was yet another bout of bad luck for the girls after the women's slopestyle competition was cancelled altogether the previous day.
The girls certainly gave it their best shot nonetheless and an impressive run right off the bat by 16 year old American Arielle Gold put her straight to the top of the leaderboard. As the only Swiss rider in the six-women finals (and only non-american for that matter), Ursina Haller predictably received some of the biggest cheers of the morning as she dropped in and put down some solid runs which included a big frontside 900, only to be bumped out of third place by Ellery Hollingsworth in the latter stages.
Reigning champion Kelly Clark was going massive as usual and put down a clean second run which included a huge front 9 and back to back 7s but ultimately fell short of Gold's score by .70 of a point. On Gold's third and final run she managed to one-up herself, going huge on every hit and stringing together a massive method, big back to back 540s, a frontside 720 and a super-tech cab 900 to improve her own score by 2 points. Clark dropped into her final run with everything still to do but bailed on her first hit leaving the 15,000 dollars for first place on a shiny silver platter for Gold. She was bummed no doubt but she's won millions of these things anyway. Share the love we say.
After the women's finals wrapped up we went for a cheeky powder run - we would have been retarded not to. Mother Nature must have responded to our whoops of joy with the clouds beginning to break just in time for the men's finals.
The rider field in the men's finals was a real mix-mash. From top international riders like Scotty Lago and Luke Mitrani up against reigning champion Iouri Podladtchikov, up-and-coming superstars like Ayumu Hirano and young Swiss kids David Hablützel and Lucien Koch, there was a great variety in the styles of riding. Scotty Lago was pulling out some mega stylish tricks out of his proverbial bag including a particularly sexy rocket air front 9 which had him settle in second place after his second run.
Iouri Podladtchikov was perhaps dropping in to the biggest cheers of the afternoon, flying the flag of his adopted home of Switzerland (when he is infact rather Russian) and was regularly swamped by kids fishing for autographs at the bottom of the pipe. I-Pod was clearly looking to defend his title but wasn't able to put down a clean run until his last - it would have been the big upset of the finals had he not stomped that final trick. His third run ultimately bumped Scotty into third place.
But today was really all about one pint-sized kid from the land of the rising sun. Taken under the wing of Sensei Kazu Kokubo, 14 year old Ayumu Hirano is an explosion of amplitude, style and composure. It was quite a spectacle to watch someone so small boost twenty foot backside airs out of a pipe that many other top riders were struggling to go big out of themselves. Ayumu put down an incredible second run which had him in poll position from that moment on, only to better his own score on his victory lap, linking together a monster backside air, frontside 1080 tail grab, cab 1080 nosegrab and a frontside double cork 1080 to claim his first major win in style. The kid's a freak (in a good way) and we were stoked to see such a humble little dude boss guys that are twice his age and twice his size.
We've heard a lot of chat flying around about this young Japanese 14 year old really giving Shaun a run for his money at the next Olympics - he came second to Shaun at this year's Winter X Games and was only a couple of feet short from equaling him in amplitude as well. And after seeing him send it to the moon before our very eyes, we reckon he only needs to learn a few more double cork variations to be seriously challenging Shaun. Pipe riders of the world sit up and take note: this 14 year old is going to (literally) grow into a force to be reckoned with.
Check out our gallery below for more shots from the event.
BURTON EUROPEAN OPEN 2012 HALFPIPE RESULTS
1. Ayumu Hirano (JPN)
2. Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
3. Scotty Lago (USA)
1. Arielle Gold (USA)
2. Kelly Clark (USA)
3. Ellery Hollingsworth (USA)