Snowboarding prodigies return to Olympic slopes in Beijing

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Prodigies young and old are set to return to the Olympic slopes in Beijing next month, among them household names like Shaun White and Chloe Kim who stepped back from the sport for several years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

White, a four-time Olympian with three halfpipe gold medals, will look to defend his legacy in the sport as he faces an ever-younger field of rivals.

The Californian, once dubbed the “flying tomato” for his bright red hair, has already indicated that Beijing will likely be his last Olympics.

The 35-year-old took several years off from competition after the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and said in a December interview with the Today Show he felt Beijing may be his “last run.”

White said this month he had tested positive for COVID-19, but was recovering and was cleared to compete in a qualifying event for Beijing.

Those challenging White for the title next month include Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who also competed in last year’s inaugural park skateboarding event at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hirano, who started skating and snowboarding when he was four, has been chasing White since the Japanese athlete won his first silver at Sochi 2014.

Also in focus will be American snowboarder Kim, who at 17 became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboard gold medal.

She recently told the New York Times she took nearly two full years away from the sport after Pyeongchang so she could have some semblance of a normal life, enrolling in Princeton and spending time with friends.

The sharp rise in anti-Asian violence and racist rhetoric during the pandemic has made Kim more vocal about the need for increased diversity and equality in snowboarding, a sport not known for either issue.

Held mostly at the Genting Snow Park in the rugged Zhangjiakou region, international snowboarders will compete for a total of 11 medals across five disciplines for men and women, as well as one for the mixed team snowboard cross.

Big air, which sees snowboarders glide down a 49-meter ramp to jump and display stunts, will also return in Beijing, giving Austria’s Anna Gasser a chance to defend her gold in what she says may be her final Olympics.

Challenging Gasser, a former gymnast and the first woman to land a plethora of complicated tricks including the Cab Double Cork 900, will be American Jamie Anderson and New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.

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