Words by James Ohara
Who knew that ninjas had a mop of Yakisoba noodle style dreads under their beanies and are more laid back than a futon hanging off the edge of a cliff drop? But it was unveiled at last night's Olympic male halfpipe that it is, indeed, the case. As much of a surprise as the gold medal winner was, there is one rider who is the talk of the office this morning. Having been banned from the opening ceremony by the Japanese Olympic Committee for wearing his pants too baggy, shirt untucked and having his tie at half mast as he entered Narita Airport in Japan, Kazuhiro Kokubo last night showed exactly why he was on the team. The bonsai sized boarder dropped into each run with the same amount of gusto that we would normally muster to pop to the shops for a pint of milk and then proceeded to fly out of the pipe with arguably the most stylish runs of the night.
As every round came and went Kazuhiro passed through to the next with ease, without so much as a sniff at a double cork. McTwist Japan grabs that made you wonder if he had summoned up the wind demons to float him along the pipe and a selection of perfectly stomped 900s and 1080s that would have made a year 6 geometry teacher weep with joy had us rooting for Kazu San right from the off.
The finals were reached and there was even speculation as to whether the sheer stylishness, mixed with the technicality and precision of every run might put Kazu up in contention with the 'untouchable' Mr.White. No one cared that there wasn't a double cork in there, the field of competitors had shown that this was by no means an unattainable trick and it was refreshing that Kazu was doing so well without it, showing that style hadn't gone totally out of the window for the judges. On the final hit of his first Finals run there was a sudden massive cheer from all watching as Kazu's head went under once, twice and his feet touched down on the wall of the pipe only for a groan to follow as they slid away from under him when he reached the flat bottom of the pipe and for the little fella to slide along on his face, then pick himself up. If he could stick it then the next run would surely be silver if not gold material, even with the stack at the end his score had come back as a 30.5.
With a graze across his chin, dropping in for his final run of the night Kazu at first seemed even more lack lustre than previously, deflated after his fall. That was until he exploded out of the pipe to once again lay down the same perfect run as before. This time as the final hit came breaths were held until his feet touched down and he appeared to be riding away and the cheer went up only to die once again as a brief sit down and hand drag brought any hopes of a Japanese fronted upset to an end.
This was not a fairy tail ending but an unfortunate end to the competition for one of the most entertaining riders of the night. The Japanese Olympic Committee kicked up a right stink about his appearance before he even got on the plane but far from disrespecting his country as every one claimed, Kazu said "For me, the Olympics is just another snowboarding event. It's nothing special." Fair play really, when it came to it he threw down and represented his country more than enough in the way he knew best. Let the riding do the talking, even if it is the Olympics, it's still snowboarding.