Fourteen-year-old Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano continued his podium streak on Saturday with a second place finish behind Shaun White in the Burton U.S. Open halfpipe finals at Vail, Colo., his new home away from home. This week's finish was no fluke: The young rider won the Burton European Open in February, beating out Iouri Podlatchikov and Scotty Lago; took silver behind White at X Games Aspen 2013; and beat out Ryo Aono and Greg Bretz to win the Burton High Fives event in New Zealand in August.
Hirano first popped up at the Burton U.S. Open two years ago, just missing the finals in 13th place, then poaching the pipe in between finals runs to make sure people would remember him. When Burton Snowboards founder Jake Burton was asked on Saturday to reflect back on his favorite moments in the 31-year history of the U.S. Open, he said, "Watching Ayumu blasting out of the pipe just now is right up there."
XGames.com caught up with Hirano and a translator after finals on Saturday for more on how he got from there to here, and where he's headed next.
XGames.com: This season you've been training here in Colorado with the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. How has the decision to move here for the season helped you progress?
I'm looking forward to spending more time with Club Vail, especially because it gives me access to all the resorts: Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone ... they also help me train by shooting videos and giving me coaching and advice. This week is the end of this year's training session in Colorado but I look forward to coming back next year.
What does the next year look like for you with the Olympics on the horizon? How much are the Olympics on your mind right now?
I don't know much about the politics side about the Olympics or the Japanese team. It's all up to them if they decide to have me on the national team or not. At this point I just don't know, but I would for sure like to go.
Two years ago you showed up at the U.S. Open under the wing of Kazu Kokubo, who ended up winning that day. What has his support meant to you over the last few years?
Kazu has been giving me good advice because he has done a lot of the tricks I wanted to learn up until this point. Whenever I ask him for advice he knows the timing, and what angles to try, and how to approach each trick in great detail. He's been very helpful and has been a good friend.
Why do you think we've been seeing so many Japanese riders getting on the podium and how have you been supporting each other?
We're just riding hard and it's been fun to have other Japanese riders. For instance, when I won second at X Games, both Taku Hiraoka and Ryo Aono were riding in that contest as well. I was really stoked to have them there, and they both congratulated me. I feel welcomed by snowboarders wherever I go, but it also helps to have some friends from Japan along for this great adventure.
What are you most looking forward to as the rest of the season unfolds?
[X Games Tignes] in France this month. I want to win that one.