KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Amid 34 crashes in the men's halfpipe qualifying round, two-time gold medalist Shaun White reasserted himself as the favorite with a first-round score of 95.25, thrusting him into the finals.
He'll be joined there by American Danny Davis, who finished third in his heat behind White and Taku Hiraoka or Japan. Another Japanese rider, 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano, won the first heat, in which two Swiss riders, Christian Haller and David Habluetzel, also advanced.
The halfpipe at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park continued to cause problems for a number of riders, though it didn't prevent all four American riders from advancing. Greg Bretz and Taylor Gold will compete against 10 others in the semifinals for six spots in the finals.
"There's not a whole lot of control in there," Gold said. "I'm hanging on for deal life."
Following awful training runs for most of the week that led to riders lodging complaints, pipe architects used significant amounts of chemicals to harden the snow. Riders said the pipe was bigger than most but proved rideable, an upgrade over what they expected.
The qualifying heats came one day after Davis called the halfpipe "garbage" and other riders criticized its integrity.
"It's the Olympics. It should be flawless," Davis told Yahoo Sports on Monday. "What a lame showcase of snowboarding, and what a lame way to treat the athletes."
When asked whether he believed it was safe, Gold said: "I don't know if I would say that. Not practicing your tricks at all coming into an event is pretty precarious on its own, let alone in kind of a bumpy halfpipe."
The semifinals runs begin at 10 a.m. ET. The finals are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. White, seeking to reassert his supremacy in halfpipe eight years after his Olympic debut, is expected to be challenged by Davis, Hirano, Yiwei Zhang of China and Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov, who eked into the semifinals after falling on his first run.
The significant number of crashes in the first qualifying heat – 20 of 34 – may have been because of the low quality of competition. Almost all of the medal favorites rode in the second heat.
Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano won the first heat with a first-run score of 92.25. He advanced automatically to the 12-man finals along with Swiss riders Christian Haller and David Habluetzel.
Four riders in the first heat crashed on both of their runs. Ryo Aono of Japan broke his goggles on one crash, and Korean Kwang-Ki Lee hit his face on another. In the second heat, Markus Malin of Finland crashed backward and bumped his head.