KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – For a nation that's never won a medal in snowboarding, Japan sure looked awfully strong.
Teenager Ayumu Hirano captured silver and his teammate Taku Hiraoka took bronze in the men's Olympic halfpipe final on Tuesday. But no one could touch Iouri Podladtchikov, the Swiss rider who was born Russia and goes by the nickname, "I-Pod." He threw down his new trick to flip and spin his way to gold, ending the reign of American Shaun White.
White and I-Pod were the two big stars coming in. But no one knew all that much about Hirano and Hiraoka. Now maybe that will change.
Especially Hirano, who had all the talent to go with the big tricks, but he's been banged up this season. He even pulled out of the Winter X Games two weeks in Aspen, Colo., because of a foot injury.
"I decided to win by jumping really high and that's a good thing," Hirano says.
He's only 15, too, which means he will be challenging White for years to come. White is well aware of that, too.
"This is an amazing start and I wish him the best of luck in his career," White says. "He's 15!"
Actually, as someone pointed out, he's 15 years and 74 days.
"Oh man, OK, he's going to retire soon," White joked.
The performances of Hirano and Hiraoka could put Japanese snowboarding on the map. Or so Hiraoka hopes.
"I'd like to see snowboarding develop more in Japan," he says.
As for Hiraoka's bronze medal, it caught even him by surprise.
"Surprised very much," he said.
— Pat Graham — Twitter http://twitter.com/pgraham34
Associated Press reporters are filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: http://apne.ws/1c3WMiu