Winter Games Athletes
Although he’ll only be 15 years old by the time the Winter Games begin in Sochi, Hirano has already made quite an impression on the snowboarding world. So much so that some have even referred to Hirano as the next Shaun White. Like White, the Japanese phenom has learned his mastery and feel for transitions through skateboarding and starred on the snowboard at any early age. Hirano has been a pro since 2011, when he signed with drink maker Monster Energy at age 12 and placed 13th at the U.S. Open. The following year, Hirano announced his presence as a serious contender in the halfpipe by winning the Burton High Fives contest in New Zealand. While White has won the last two Olympic titles in halfpipe and the last six X Games titles in superpipe, Hirano appears to be nipping at White's heels in the event. Behind his back-to-back double-cork 1080s and other impressive aerial maneuvers, Hirano finished just behind White with the silver medal at the 2013 Winter X Games in Aspen. He then won the Burton European Open in Switzerland in February (White did not participate) before nearly upsetting White in a second-place finish at Vail’s inaugural Burton U.S. Open the following month. In preparation for his first Olympic appearance, Hirano displayed why he might be ready to become the sport's next superstar with his victory in the halfpipe at the New Zealand Winter Games in August. Hirano seems to have as good a chance as anyone to end White’s halfpipe reign in Sochi.