The Burton 2011 US Open Halfpipe Finals yesterday once again marked the close of the biggest, oldest, and probably the most prestigious week of competition in snowboarding. After a long drive down from Canada, including a three-hour midnight detour into Massachusetts (don't ask!) Whitelines made it to Stratton Mountain, Vermont, to witness the action - and watch Kelly Clark and Kazuhiro Kokubo claim what was, for both of them, their second US Open halfpipe title in a row.
Both Kelly and Kazu had been in it to win it from the start, riding well through the semi-finals and coming into finals day with a good bit of momentum behind them. While the weather on Saturday wasn't exactly all-singing and dancing sunshine, it was better than the miserable drizzle that had greeted the slopestyle finalists the day before - OK, so it may have been greybird, but it was cold, the pipe was running well, and there was even a decent crowd for the occasion. The stage was set for Kazu and Kelly to get stuck in.
Not that the competition wasn't fierce of course. In the women's finals, Stratton's local hero Hannah Teter, who finished second, and third place Gretchen Bleiler ran Kelly close. But when both of them failed to improve on her sccore with their final runs, Clark was given the luxury of a victory lap. Which, being Kelly, she used to improve her score from the second run.
As the crowd waited for the men's comp to come around, a couple of things were distracting attention away from the Mountain Dew commercial breaks that the commentators kept cutting to. One of these was chatting about one of the commentators themselves. And no, this time it wasn't Jon Weaver's gossip-column filling antics that had tongues wagging, it was the 'special guest commentator' for the day - no less than Kevin Pearce. KP was looking and sounding healthier than ever, and it was good to see him back at a major event.
Further distraction came from some of the Charlie Sheen-themed banners people had out on display - the best of which simply said "Winning". But possibly the biggest distraction came from a 13-year-old Japanese kid called Ayumu Hirano. Having narrowly missed out on a spot in the finals himself, this tiny bundle of pure halfpipe talent was dropping in the lulls between runs, wowing the crowds with massive McTwists, and huge stylish airs that no teenager - let alone a thirteen year old - should have any right to stomp! Seriously, you have to see this kid ride to believe just how big he goes. And he's barely 5 foot tall!
There was young talent on display in the comp too of course, not least from Ayumu's older brother Eiju, who was riding well. Swiss super-grom Jan Scherrer also rinsed out, adding yet another impressive result to his tally for the season by finishing in the top ten. In the end though, it was experience that won through, with Kazu's mix of style, amplitude and technicality in his second run putting him in the top spot. With the riders dropping in reverse order for their final run, there were some tense moments - not least when Louie Vito, who'd been throwing down three doubles in each of his runs, as well as a new double crippler, dropped in. Unfortunately, he failed to land on his final run, leaving him down in fourth.
This put another Japanese youngster, Kohei Kudo, in third. He in turn failed to improve on his earlier score, meaning that only Iouri Podlatchikov stood between Kazu and a second US Open title.
When Ipod stacked on his double McTwist 1260, Kazu and his crew started the celebrations. Sacking off the idea of a Clark-style victory lap, Kazu rode straight down the middle of the pipe with a massive smile on his face and his arms in the air. Another well-deserved victory for the pint-sized samurai's stylish approach to pipe.
As The Sounds warmed up their instruments, a bumper prize-giving session took place. It wasn't only Kelly and Kazu who were claiming big cheques from Burton. Peetu Piiroinen got one, as well as a brand new mini countryman for being Burton Global Open Series overall champion. He also picked up yet another TTR World Tour title - a record breaking third for the Finn, which meant he took home a cool $100,000 total!! Kelly, who'd smashed it at the Burton European Open 2011 as well, took home the women's Global Open Series trophy and the keys to her own new mini, while Jamie Anderson was crowned women's TTR World Tour champ. Needless to say, there was a fair bit of champagne going around after that.
BURTON US OPEN 2011
1. Kelly Clark (USA)
2. Hannah Teter (USA)
3. Gretchen Bleiler (USA)
1. Kazuhiro Kokubo (JPN)
2. Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
3. Kohei Kudo (JPN)
Burton Global Open Series Men’s Final Results
1. Peetu Piiroinen (FIN)
2. Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
3. Christian Haller (SUI)
Burton Global Open Series Women’s Final Results
1. Kelly Clark (USA)
2. Jamie Anderson (USA)
3. Kjersti Buaas (NOR)
Men’s TTR World Tour Champion
Peetu Piiroinen (FIN)
Women’s TTR World Tour Champion
Jamie Anderson (USA)