LONDON (Reuters) - Japan gave snowboarding its Olympic debut in 1998 but of the 30 gold medals handed out in the sport since the Nagano Games, none have been draped around the neck of a Japanese athlete.
With Ayumu Hirano and Yuki Kadono staking claims in the men’s halfpipe and big air events, however, the huge numbers of traveling Japanese fans coming to February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea might have something to celebrate.
At the Sochi Games four years ago, a 15-year-old Hirano claimed a stunning silver medal in the halfpipe ahead of compatriot Taku Hiraoka in third, with double Olympic champion Shaun White outside the medals in fourth.
The previous earlier, Hirano had become the youngest medallist in X Games history with his silver at Aspen and he has since gone on to add a Winter X Games gold medal to his collection.
A rejuvenated White means Hirano will have his work cut out to go one better than his Sochi silver but the 19-year-old has perhaps been destined for glory since birth.
His name Ayumu means ‘walk the dream’ and was given to him by his mother to encourage him to chase his aspirations.
The addition of big air to the Olympic schedule has been applauded by freestyle snowboarders around the world and gives Kadono a real chance of winning gold for Japan.
The 21-year-old, who finished eighth in the slopestyle event at Sochi, is a big air specialist with four Winter X Games medals in the event to his name and is something of a pioneer in the sport.
His signature move, the ‘Backside Triplecork 1620’, has since been replicated in big air events around the world and in 2015 he became the first person to land the trick back-to-back.
(This version of the story corrects year in first paragraph to 1998 from 1988)
Editing by Peter Rutherford