Hirano, Clark win pipe in New Zealand
WANAKA, New Zealand -- Fourteen-year-old Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano won the men's halfpipe event at the New Zealand Winter Games on Saturday in his first appearance in a World Cup competition.
Hirano used his speed to land some of the biggest jumps attempted by the finalists, posting a score of 92.25 points on his first run. That score was only threatened by countryman Taku Hiraoka, whose second run included the only 1260 of the competition and earned 91.75 points to take the silver medal.
U.S. veteran Kelly Clark won the women's event, claiming her 61st World Cup title. The 2002 Olympic gold medalist was 11th out of 12 competitors after the first run, but scored 89.50 on her second run to take gold from China's Cai Xuetong.
Xuetong, who won the semifinal earlier in the day at the Cardrona ski field, scored 85.50 points to edge American Gretchen Bleiler, with 85.25 points, for the silver medal.
Clark's winning run included a frontside air, backside 540 mute, frontside 1080 lien, cab 720 mute, frontside stalefish. She said she had not lost hope of winning the gold medal after failing to nail a jump on her first run.
"You think of it as an opportunity," Clark said. "It's easy to have things not go right and all of a sudden change your plans.
"For me it's more important to be internally motivated, to stick to the plan regardless of what goes on around me. Today I thought, well hey, this is exactly what can happen at the Olympics -- it is what happened to me at the Olympics last time.
"I just thought I could be conservative today and go for a podium finish, or I could rally and think of it as an opportunity and that's exactly what I was able to do."
Hirano claimed gold in the men's event with a run that began with a backside tail into frontside 1080 double cork tail, cab 1080 mute, frontside 1080 double cork and cab 720 indy. Hiraoka took silver from Christian Haller of Switzerland who prevented a Japanese clean sweep, edging Ayumu Nedefuji for bronze with his second run of 82.50.
Hirano was stunned to have won a World Cup event at his first event.
"I was aiming to be on the podium in this competition so I'm really happy about being in first place," he said. "This is my first World Cup and I still need to compete well this season to qualify for the Japanese team."
FIS World Cup at Winter Games NZ -- Women's halfpipe
FIS World Cup at Winter Games NZ -- Men's halfpipe