PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — No need for a double-take. Australian snowboarder Scotty James really will be wearing boxing gloves when he competes at the Olympics — his not-so-subtle way of reminding himself that any time he drops into the halfpipe, he’s in for a brawl.
His version of the knockout blow at the Pyeongchang Games could be a trick only he performs: the switch backside 1260, a backward, double cork trick at the bottom of the halfpipe that is so daunting, it still unnerves him at times.
That, plus two double corks James throws higher up in his run, make him possibly the most technically superior rider at the Olympics, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll walk away with the win. In one key contest before the Olympics, Shaun White edged out James for the top spot. At the Winter X Games, Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano did it.
Both won on the strength of 1440-degree jumps that James does not have in his run — at least not yet.
“I can see what everyone’s doing and what everyone will do in the future leading into the Olympics,” said the 23-year-old James , who at 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters) is one of the tallest riders in the halfpipe. “Ayumu has just done his run that you’ll see in Pyeongchang. I’ve still got some more to answer back. I’m excited to bring it to the table.”
Back to those red boxing gloves : James started the tradition more than a year ago, after he finished second at a World Cup event in Laax, Switzerland. He was so fired up — he felt he earned the top spot — that when he went to home to Melbourne he searched for a little extra motivation. That’s when he ran across a pair of boxing gloves , just like the ones that Australia’s boxing kangaroo wears on the country’s sports flag.
He brought the gloves to the Winter X Games in 2017 and won the competition. It’s been his thing ever since.
“Just feels good. It’s one of those last-second things, where you’re strapping in and look at your hands and you’re like, ‘I’m Scotty James and I’m here to play,'” James said, a two-time world championship halfpipe winner who is sponsored by Red Bull. “That’s what I think of when I look at my gloves.”
While other riders spent the last year dialing in their 1440s for the Olympics, James locked in on the switch backside 1260, where he rides into the wall of the halfpipe with his dominant foot trailing (that’s riding switch), then ascends the wall and shoots into the air spinning backward.
It was a long, slow road to perfect the trick that has long been thought too dangerous and unpredictable to bring to a contest.
“I actually spent a whole year riding just switch before I even started doing any spinning,” explained James , who finished 21st in the halfpipe at the 2010 Vancouver Games as a 15-year-old and 21st again four years later in Sochi. “It was a really fine detail involved in that trick and you just don’t take it for granted at all. I’ve definitely taken some good hits on it. I’ve done the Cab 1440 and the frontside 1440, which both Shaun and Ayumu do, but this trick in particular it’s probably the hardest things that’s tested me as a rider and as a person.
“I’ll keep on doing it, but then I’ve got to work on something else.”
Because the level of the game keeps escalating higher and higher.
At an event in mid-January in Snowmass, Colorado, White turned in a stunning run that included two of the toughest tricks in the halfpipe — the Double McTwist 1260 that he patented and the frontside double cork 1440. It scored a 100 and knocked James from the top spot.
Then, two weeks later at Winter X in Aspen, Colorado, James put down a sensational run, only to be denied a gold medal by Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist who nailed one of the most daunting runs ever seen — landing back-to-back 1440-degree spins on his way to a winning score of 99. That night also featured a scary crash in which defending Olympic gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov slammed his face against the halfpipe wall and had to be sledded off the course. He suffered a broken nose.
The stage is set for what should be an entertaining, no-holds-barred final in South Korea. James embraces his role as one of the favorites, even if he’s been known to tell people he’s just met that he is a landscaper or an electrician or a plumber.
It’s just simpler than explaining that he is one of the best snowboarders in the world.
“I’ve been working really hard for this,” James said. “I know what I need to do to prepare myself and I’ll do just that. The rest is just enjoyment.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org