However, immediately behind Hirano on the standings remains Mr. James, and the 28-year-old Australian superstar casts a long shadow indeed.
James has only missed the podium twice since the start of the 2017/18 World Cup season, with six victories and four runner-up finishes out of the ten podiums earned over that period. While James did finish second behind Hirano in Laax, the results there were taken from the qualification scores after finals were cancelled due to the weather. There’s no doubt that James would have upped his run for finals had they gone off in Laax, and there is some reasonable doubt as to whether Hirano would have been able to match James’ best in those finals.
With that being said, James has put himself in a difficult position in his quest for a what would be a men’s record-setting fourth career halfpipe crystal globe by not dropping in on the Mammoth World Cup this past weekend.
With 180 points, James sits 34 back of Hirano, and while there are a number of scenarios that could play out by the end of competition on Friday, the most linear path for James to earn the globe would be a victory for himself and third-place finish – or worse – for Hirano, making for a spread of 40 points between the two riders and another trophy for his already overflowing shelves.
The wildcard on the men’s side of things is another Australian, Valentino Guseli.
Guseli has been a leading figure in every storyline of the men’s Park & Pipe World Cup in 2022/23. He earned his first World Cup victory at the Style Experience big air World Cup in Edmonton back in December, before claiming the big air crystal globe at Kreischberg in early January – making him the first Australian winner and, at 17-years-old, the youngest men’s big air crystal globe winner ever.
Last weekend Guseli made some more history, finishing in second place in both the halfpipe and slopestyle competitions at Mammoth to become the first rider in World Cup history to earn a podium in all three Park & Pipe events in a single season, and just the fifth rider ever to complete the podium hat trick in the career.
Needless to say, Guseli has a virtually unassailable lead atop the Park & Pipe overall standings, and he’s also in the hunt for both the halfpipe and the slopestyle crystal globes as well.
With 166 halfpipe points Guseli is only 14 back of James, and 50 behind Hirano. While a whole lot of circumstances would have to turn his way for the halfpipe globe to end up in Guseli’s hands, stranger things have happened in the final event of a World Cup season.
Behind Guseli are the longshots, with Yuto Totsuka (JPN) and Chaeun Lead (KOR) locked at 127 points. While both are mathematically in the race, neither has a real likelihood of earning the globe. However, one or the other could find their way into the final rankings’ top three with a little luck come Friday.
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