Totsuka again bests James in Buttermilk halfpipe, this time at world championships
Like, well, every contest since Shaun White’s Olympic win in 2018, the men’s snowboard halfpipe world championship came down to Japan’s Yuto Totsuka and Australia’s Scotty James.
Everyone else is essentially riding for bronze these days, and the rest of the athletes understand this.
“It’s amazing,” Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer said of sharing the podium with Totsuka and James. “But on the other side, I had two podiums last year and I feel every time you make a podium it’s with them. So it’s not too special, to be honest. It’s obviously special to be on the podium, but not when the other two guys are Yuto and Scotty.”
That statement was nothing but a nod of respect to the dominance shown by two athletes who seem to have developed one of the best rivalries in snowboarding.
As it was with X Games Aspen in January, it was Totsuka who beat James to win gold on Saturday at Buttermilk Ski Area, with Scherrer coming in a closer-than-expected third.
Since the last Olympics — which is the last time White has competed — James had dominated halfpipe snowboarding, winning nearly every contest he competed in during roughly a two-year stretch, including back-to-back X Games titles in 2019 and 2020. The only person who has proven capable of stopping the charming Aussie is Totsuka, who might have elevated himself to the top of the sport’s hierarchy this winter.
“I’m happy now. It’s a dream come true,” Totsuka said in his limited English.
James had the upper hand early, scoring 90.50 on the first of his three runs in finals, while Totsuka couldn’t finish his first run. The 19-year-old Japanese sensation took over from there, scoring 93 on his second run to put all the pressure back on the 26-year-old Australian.
Uncharacteristically, James couldn’t deliver and didn’t put down a clean run after his first. Totsuka upped his game, putting down a near flawless third run of 96.25 as the second-to-last rider. James, who led qualifying Thursday, was the last to drop in and had a strong start to his final run before losing his edge.
It ended a run of three straight world championships for James, who won at worlds in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
“I’d be lying if I said I was super happy coming away, but I learned a lot today,” James said. “I obviously would have loved to come away with the win, but Yuto rode great and he really brought it at the end. Honestly, I’m just looking forward now to what I can do next and into the future to make sure I can get back up on the top.”
Scherrer scored 87 on his third and final run for bronze, keeping the Swiss podium streak alive at worlds. His countryman, Patrick Burgener, had won bronze the past two world championships. Swiss great Iouri Podladtchikov, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist, also won worlds silver in 2017.
In fourth Saturday was another Swiss rider in David Habluetzel (81.50), while Idaho’s Chase Josey led the Americans by finishing fifth with 81. Colorado’s Chase Blackwell was sixth (80.50) and Taylor Gold eighth (78.25) to round out the U.S. contingent. In seventh was Germany’s Andre Hoeflich (79.75), in ninth Japan’s Raibu Katayama (36.25) and in 10th Canada’s Derek Livingston (29.25).
This was Totsuka’s first gold at worlds after he finished second to James in his only other appearance in 2019, hosted by Park City, Utah.
Many of these same athletes are expected back next week for the World Cup and U.S. Grand Prix event at Buttermilk.
“There is no better time in my career right now to be feeling the way I am,” James said. “Which is extremely fired up and ready to go work really hard and learn the tricks I want to do and be back where I want to be back. I’m really motivated and ready to go.”