The first heat of the men's halfpipe just finished up with Ayumu Hirano topping the scoreboard after taking advantage of his early start on what has to be described as one of the worst pipes in in recent competition history.
His first backside hit was as huge as ever, going almost as high again as the pipe and straight into the most technical run of the day so far. He didn't top his score in the second heats but still managed to make the 'garbage' pipe conditions look buttery smooth.
The Sochi halfpipe came under fire from practicing riders last night; some blaming the decision to hold a winter Olympics in what has at some points looked like a Caribbean holiday resort, others blaming poor Russian shapers.
Whatever the blame, these are the conditions the riders have to deal with. Shaun White, used to perfect personal pipes might not be able to cope with the slush whereas more mellow personalities more used to spring riding like Danny Davis might bloom.
Also under fire so far is the camera work; watching the BBC feed (that NBC reportedly paid $775 million for), about half the tricks seem to be getting lost due to the operator apparently drinking straight up vodka for breakfast.
Back to the heat; unfortunately neither Ben Kilner or Dom Harrington managed to put a run down and saw an early end to their Olympic journey. We're gutted for them but at least they both still managed smiles at the bottom, according to our Sochi correspondent they've both had a great time out of the games. Well done anyway guys!
Swiss riders Christian Haller and David Habluetzel qualified in second and third respectively, Haller boosting some of the sickest methods of the day:
None of the Dutch or Russian riders came through, but the first of the Chinamen - Shi Wancheng - did, despite some truly awful tindy grabs. Could they be the next global pipe force behind the USA and Japan?
But the poor conditions were the talk of the day, a slushy pipe will really separate the men from the boys, but maybe in the reverse order to usual if Ayumu keeps up his pace. Todd Richards again probably put it best:
Anyone who has ridden a @HighCascade snowboard camp pipe well, may have an advantage here in Sochi. Summer slush with salt pockets
— toddrichards (@btoddrichards) February 11, 2014
The traditional big guns of halfpipe were all drawn together in this heat; Shaun White, Iouri Podladtchikov, Danny Davis and Peetu Piiroinen, but they were also pitted against some of the bigger new names; Scotty James, Taylor Gold and the surprise Chinese shredder Yiwei Zhang.
The pipe seemed to freeze up a lot and didn't provide quite as many difficulties as it did in the first heat, apart from a few riders hooking up on the central speed-hump left by these clowns:
At the end of the heat it was Shaun White who lead the charge again, his huge first run score of 95.75 keeping him afloat. Confident he would still qualify he choose to attempt the first ever Tomahawk into a YOLO flip combo, but couldn't quite stick the landing. That'll be some trick to beat in the final.
Taku Hiraoka came in second and took the third highest qualifying score after Shaun and Ayumu with a blistering run. He goes straight through to the finals tonight and looked pretty pleased about it to say the least.
As does Danny Davis, the Sage Kotsenburg of the pipe. Also putting his time in in Park City 'The Dude' - as we've taken to calling him in the Whitelines Olympic war room - put down our favourite run of the day: backside 360, that switch method, cab 10, double crippler and a chicken wing McTwist, straight off of a KFC menu. He styled it out on his second run, confident he'd already done enough and gave us this frontside handplant to finish. Great to see that trick in the Olympics, abide.
Further down the field, perhaps the biggest story was iPod struggling to get to grips with the course; he hung up in his first run but managed to pull together enough to get him through to the semis on his second. He was the first of the big guns to falter today.
Sadly Scotty James didn't make it further than here, he got squeezed out of ninth place despite putting down an awesome first run. His team mates Kent Callister and Nathan Johnstone managed the semis though, the former tweaking out our favourite trick so far, THIS method:
Taylor Gold almost fell victim to the judges giving out seemingly lower scores at the start of the heat, but answered with a stomped identical run for his second putting him comfortably through.
Chinaman Yiwei Zhang pulled a score of 90.00 out of seemingly nowhere, who is this guy? Unlike his compatriot in the first heat, he wasn't tindying at all. Sadly Peetu Piiroinen crashed in practise and didn't make his start time, but even without his presence the finals and semis are already looking stacked.
The top three from each heat go through to the finals at 5.30pm GMT, whilst the next twelve will battle it out for another six spots from the semis at 3pm. Join us then on our liveblog here.
Qualified for Finals
Qualified For Semifinals