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Saturday, December 8, 2012
Kadono wins Air & Style Beijing

By Melissa Larsen
ESPN.com

Oh, contests… Has one ever taken place without a little judging/scoring controversy getting stirred up at some point along the way? It's doubtful. And so, what went down at the Air & Style Beijing this morning was about the same as what has gone down at every snowboard contest ever since the dawn of time. (Tricks were thrown, scores were given, disagreements over said scores among those watching ensued, awards were handed out to deserving riders, life went on.) However, since this event is the kickoff of the 2012-13 World Snowboard Tour 6Star season, it warrants discussion.

The first triple corks in Air & Style history were landed by X Games double gold medalist Mark McMorris and 16-year-old Japanese newcomer Yuki Kadono. Both riders lightly dragged a hand on the landing. McMorris netted an 85.67 for his efforts and didn't advance to the Super Final. Kadono, who no one knew could even do a triple cork before he pulled his out on the very last run of the contest, netted a 97.67 and won the event. We will come back to this. But first, let's talk about this:

So... anyone feel like throwing a double cork tonight?

Not to take anything away from the double cork, or the riders who do it, because this was a trick only a few guys could land at this same contest back in 2010, and we all need to remember how hard it is, and respect that. That said, the thing about snowboarding that is so wonderful is that, in its best moments, it's creative, surprising and a little buck wild. Has trick progression come so far that we're never going to see that in contests again? Is it always going to come down to who did the most rotations, held his grab the longest and didn't almost drag his hand? Let's be honest here.

In the end, the Air & Style was a great contest. The talent pool was deep, and the riding was really impressive. But we've been making a lot of noise lately about how the World Snowboard Tour should be the legitimate alternative to the (rapidly approaching) Winter Olympics because the events in it are run and judged by snowboarders who understand style and creativity in ways skiers never will.

So we should all take collective interest in making sure that the judging criteria taking precedence at our self-proclaimed creative events are not setting themselves up to reward rotation and ice-skating-like precision at the expense of allowing riders the space to get loose, break molds and take chances. Or we will all be hypocrites.

Let's look at Sage Kotsenburg's double cork 10 Japan as an example. Japan grabs in rodeo and cork flips have been making a resurgence lately, battling only the switch powder butter to revert in number of cameo appearances made in recent snowboard movies. It is, without fail, the one move that makes almost every snowboarder who sees it say a variation of the phrase, "Man, that is a cool-looking trick." Kotsenburg was the only one bringing this sort of style to the table, and the execution on his final 10 was perfect -- pulled clean, fully tweaked, held all the way around, landed beautifully.

Peetu Piiroinen, Yuki Kadono and Stale Sandbech
Peetu Piiroinen, Yuki Kadono and Stale Sandbech. If any one of these guys took a time machine back to the Air & Style five years ago, he would leave that contest Master of the Snowboard Universe.

Yet he was taken out by a double cork 12 -- one done by someone who has been winning contests with this trick for almost two years. Yeah, it was good, and so is the rider who did it. Peetu Piiroinen is amazing, and he ended up coming in second overall because of it. But … did his trick win simply because it had 180 more degrees of rotation? It's a mystery.

So then, if we follow the rotation-trumps-all logic above, what happened with the triple cork 14? McMorris landed the first one ever seen in an Air & Style and all of a sudden the judges seemed to take a stand about a hand drag being more important than the difficulty of the trick. But … really? It's not as if he's hucking, ballerina style. He's got that trick fully in control.

If you watch the replay, you could argue that McMorris also rode out his triple cork on his heel edge, instead of over his bolts, and that's the reason his triple was scored so low he couldn't advance. But a full 12 points lower than the triple that not only won the contest, but won it by a commanding four points over the competition? That kind of score disparity is so out of scale that it blows any sort of point the judges were trying to make in the semis about a clean landing being more imporant than throwing a new trick out of the water. And it was a weak point to begin with.

Sixteen-year-old Yuki Kadono. Get used to seeing this kid around.

In two years, when everyone learns the triple and pulls it out ad infinitum in contests, things like edge placement and arm position -- and even whether it should be done at all -- will bear critique. But for now, this is still a trick that only four people in the world can land consistently. FOUR. Yesterday it was three. The triple is still crazy, and a rider is still risking a lot by throwing it.

So let's be clear: Kadono fully deserved his ring, and we should all just go ahead and learn his name right now because he's obviously just getting started here. (And it should be mentioned that an ever-impressive Ståle Sandbech, whose strength looks as if it finally has caught up with his talent, came in third with a backside 1440 and gave him a good run.) The Air & Style is a contest that gained its reputation for rewarding trick progression in snowboarding, so really there is no way a triple, thrown in the final of this particular contest at this point in history, couldn't win.

But how cool would it have been if Kadono had won in a head-to-head match against one of the two guys whose name is virtually attached to the triple, during the first Air & Style contest in which the trick had ever been done? That would have been a Super Final for the ages.

But, please, judge this all for yourself. Watch the contest replay online at WatchESPN, or tune in to ESPN2 at 1 p.m. ET Sunday for the full broadcast.

WST 6Star Air & Style Beijing 2012, Final Results

1. Yuki Kadono
2. Peetu Piiroinen
3. Ståle Sandbech
4. Mathias Weissenbacher