After Tokyo, dual Olympian Hirano switches up for Beijing

Only four months have passed since Japan's Ayumu Hirano competed at the Tokyo Games in skateboarding, now he is gearing up for another crack at Olympic gold -- this time on Beijing's snow in February.

AYUMU HIRANO

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Ayumu Hirano took part in the park competition as skateboarding made its Olympic debut this summer, missing out on the eight-man final after finishing 14th out of 20 in qualifying.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Only four months have passed since Japan's Ayumu Hirano competed at the Tokyo Olympics, now he is gearing up for another crack at Olympic gold -- this time on Beijing's snow in February.

Hirano took part in the park competition as skateboarding made its Olympic debut this summer, missing out on the eight-man final after finishing 14th out of 20 in qualifying.

The 23-year-old -- who sports dreadlocks -- will be on a more familiar footing assuming that he makes Japan's snowboard halfpipe team for the Beijing Games, having claimed silver at the past two Winter Olympics.

But time is against him as he makes the switch from one board to another, with only two months left until the Games begin on February 4.

"I have to fit my preparations into a shorter time than ever before and it's a new experience for me," Hirano told reporters this week.

"It's a race against time. I'm in a situation where I have to hurry."

Hirano made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at the 2014 Sochi Games, finishing second behind Iouri "iPod" Podladtchikov in the snowboard halfpipe.

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He claimed silver again in Pyeongchang four years later, losing out to American legend Shaun White for gold.

Hirano proved his versatility by becoming a dual Olympian at Tokyo's Games and hopes it will help in his quest for glory in Beijing.

"I took things from it that I couldn't have got anywhere else," he said of skateboarding at Tokyo.

"Small things in the way I felt. There was a feeling of unease that was different from competing on a snowboard. I want to make use of what I learned from that."

Hirano grew up in Niigata, on Japan's snowy western coast, and often went skateboarding with his brothers during the sunny summer months.

His younger brother Kaishu -- also a snowboarder hoping to make Japan's Olympic team -- describes Ayumu's summer-winter double achievement as "unthinkable".

"I would watch him do things on a skateboard and think they were impossible, but I had more confidence on a snowboard so I concentrated on that," Kaishu said.

"To be able to compete in both is something amazing that seems impossible to me."

'Flipped a switch'

Hirano admitted feeling "anxious" at his home Tokyo Games and did not have the "same peace of mind" as he does on snow.

But he said the experience made him mentally stronger and he is expected to again contend for Winter Olympic gold in Beijing.

Hirano admitted he has had "less time on the slopes" than his rivals and knows he will have to get up to speed quickly to stay competitive.

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"Until very recently it didn't feel like the other riders had made such huge progress in their technique, but in the last half a year, everyone has flipped a switch and suddenly made a massive improvement," he said.

"It's a competitive world so if one person tries something new, everyone else tries it too."

Hirano is likely to renew his rivalry with 35-year-old three-time champion White in Beijing, with Japan team-mate Yuto Totsuka and Australia's Scotty James also strong contenders for gold.

Hirano is preparing to begin his World Cup season this weekend in Colorado, as the Beijing countdown starts in earnest.

"I was away from snowboarding for a long time and it's been a while since I was in a competition," he said.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what level I'm at."

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