Totsuka outduels James in superpipe for first X Games Aspen gold |

Totsuka outduels James in superpipe for first X Games Aspen gold

Summit locals take fourth and sixth places

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Japanese snowboarder Yuto Totsuka airs out of the superpipe during the final competition for men’s snowboard superpipe at the 2021 X Games Aspen at Buttermilk on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN — The biggest heavyweight dropped out hours before the first round. Scotty James still brought his boxing gloves. But it was Yuto Totsuka who threw the knockout punch.

The Japanese phenom outdueled James for his first X Games Aspen gold medal on Sunday night in the men’s snowboard superpipe contest at Buttermilk, a real slugfest even though legend Shaun White pulled out due to injury in what was supposed to be his return.

“Dream come true,” Totsuka said. “This pipe is my favorite pipe.”

Japanese snowboarder Yuto Totsuka, left, fist bumps his teammates and coach before taking his last run during the men’s superpipe finals at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Summit County locals Taylor Gold and Chase Blackwell finished fourth and sixth respectively.

White was supposed to be the headline story. The three-time Olympic champion and 18-time Winter X Games medalist hasn’t competed at X Games since 2017 and hasn’t made a podium in Aspen since 2013. But he announced Sunday afternoon he was withdrawing because of an injury he sustained in practice.

“I tweaked my knee during practice this week and after talking with the medical staff, decided that pushing through would only make things worse,” White wrote on Instagram. “It’s a difficult decision to make, but just need to give my knee some time to recover and I’ll be back soon.”

White wasn’t the only big name not competing this week. California’s Toby Miller, White’s handpicked protégé, was also hurt during practice and withdrew. Idaho’s Chase Josey was another late scratch after suffering a big crash in practice on Saturday.

This left only seven athletes competing in Sunday’s halfpipe contest, including X Games rookie Joey Okesson and second-year X Games competitor Blackwell, both Americans who were added to the starting list very late in the process.

Did this impact the decision-making by the athletes who did compete? At least for the podium, not at all.

“I just was coming out tonight with a run I was coming to do regardless of who was here,” James said. “And I’m glad I put one down.”

The competition more or less came down to the same two riders most contests these days come down to, that being James and Totsuka. James has dominated most contests since the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he won bronze, but the one person that has proven capable of beating the likable Australian is Totsuka.

The 19-year-old had finished runner-up to James the past two years at X Games Aspen, but came through with a massive third run to jump from third to first. James, who was the last to drop in, delivered on his fourth and final run but the judges kept him in second and gave the victory to Totsuka.

It is Totsuka’s first gold medal at X Games, and a sixth overall medal for James, the 26-year-old three-time winner at Buttermilk who is known for his boxing glove mittens.

“It was great to be back here. It’s always an event we look forward to, all of us,” James said. “We are all really stoked we are able to come here with all the circumstances this year. But X Games and ESPN and everyone and Aspen went through all the right protocols to make sure we came here safe. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m just about over getting COVID tests up my nose. But that’s the reality at the moment and that’s what we have to do to be safe.”

Finishing in bronze position Sunday was Japan’s Ruka Hirano, an X Games rookie, who went toe-to-toe with James and Totsuka much of the contest. Hirano, 18, is not related to 2018 X Games Aspen gold medalist Ayumu Hirano, who has not competed in Aspen since that event.

Okesson finished in fifth, and Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer in seventh.

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