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Tuesday is a big night on the Olympic schedule, highlighted by the men's halfpipe final. Here's what is on our radar for tonight:
The halfpipe in Sochi is, let's say, less than Olympic. This is not breaking news. And this information should not come as a surprise to anyone involved in snowboarding. The World Cup and Olympic halfpipes are traditionally subpar, the pipe at last year's test event was barely rideable, and warm temps have turned the man-made snow here in Sochi into a sugary, bumpy mess in the flat bottom.
Riders have been struggling in practice and few even attempted finals-level tricks. Fans hoping to see 20-foot airs, YOLO flips, a triple cork or American Danny Davis' switch method will likely be disappointed Tuesday night.
"It's so hard to ride switch through the flat bottom in this pipe, for me," Davis said after Monday night's practice. "We're all going to have to change up our runs."
Is the YOLO even possible in this pipe? "No way," said Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov, the first rider to land the trick. "Not if the pipe stays like this."
All that said, everyone rides the same pipe. Barring an overnight miracle, the level of riding will not be the caliber of an X Games or Grand Prix, but the competition itself will be fantastic.
Shaun White is still the gold-medal favorite, and maybe even more so now that the crummy pipe conditions have affected the mindset of many of his competitors. White has won the past two Olympics and certainly came to Sochi hoping for the best, but prepared to ride in a less-than-perfect halfpipe. White shines when conditions are tough, and he has a deep reservoir of tricks from which he can pull together any number of winning lines, depending on the pace of the contest.
Fifteen-year-old Japanese wunderkind Ayumu Hirano was riding well in Monday night's practice, boosting some of the highest airs of the night and seemingly unfazed by the poor pipe conditions.
"He's so light, he floats on top of the bumps," Davis said. "Iouri's been riding really well today. [American] Greg Bretz took today off, but he's been riding well, too." Davis, who is coming off a win at the Mammoth Grand Prix and the Winter X Games, is going to have a hard time challenging White without his huge signature first-hit switch method.
The halfpipe in Sochi is the longest in history, long enough for an extra hit at the bottom. Most contest halfpipes are long enough to allow for five to six hits (tricks), with six being the standard. In the Sochi pipe, there's room for seven, but not all riders will choose to add a seventh hit to their run. It will be interesting to see how the judges respond to those who do.
Since the Olympic debut of men's and women's slopestyle snowboarding last weekend, judging has been a hot topic among the riders (and on snowboard message boards). The judges made a bold statement in both events, favoring riders who landed clean runs with creative tricks, a variety of grabs and technical perfection over those who threw progressive tricks while sacrificing cleanliness. The same should hold true in halfpipe, where all the YOLO flips in Sochi won't be enough to overcome sketched landings and hand drags.