There are question marks about the quality of the halfpipe and the quantity of competition Nate Johnstone has had but the Australian men’s team is still bullish about its chances when one of the signature events of the Games gets under way on Tuesday.
Propelled by the superstardom of the United States’ $20 million man Shaun White, men’s snowboard halfpipe is now requisite viewing at a Winter Olympics.
Boosting seven six or more above the lip of the ‘pipe and spinning and twisting furiously in a series of increasingly complex manoeuvres, it makes for a spectacular show.
Johnstone and Scotty James will largely carry Australia’s hopes in a halfpipe that has been described as not up to standard by teammate Torah Bright.
A medal might be a stretch in a field that contains the dominant Americans White, Danny Davis and Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov, but the pair is still aiming high.
Johnstone, who was devastated when he had to pull out of the 2010 Games just two weeks before with a spiral fracture of the ankle, has had a lead-up he described as “a bit slow” after injury prior to Christmas and event cancellation.
“It was a bit of a tough season but I am feeling pretty good though,” Johnstone said.
“If you have good results, it is good piece of mind but you’ve got to compete well on the one day.”
And that’s something he has done – by winning the world championship in 2011, albeit in a field without many of the top Americans.
James’ lead-up is in stark contrast.
The 19-year-old, who sticks mostly to the pro tour but managed to take out the overall World Cup title in a disrupted schedule, appears to be in the form of his life.
His fourth-placed finish in a strong field at last month’s X Games suggests he is getting closer and closer to the elite in the sport.
Johnstone said it was great to see James, who was 16th in his less-favoured slopestyle, doing so well.
“It’s more of like a friendly rivalry, I guess,” he said of their relationship, with James not working under Australia’s Olympic Winter Institute program.
“We are friends at the end of the day and always will be.”
He’s hopeful that both can progress to the 12-man halfpipe decider.
“That would be the dream scenario – and then just duke it out in the finals,” Johnstone said.
The pair will be joined by US-based Australian rider Kent Callister.