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Scotty James fends off Ayumu Hirano's 3 flips, wins Winter X halfpipe gold

ASPEN, Colo. -- Ayumu Hirano landed the triple cork. Scotty James rode away with the win.

The calculus on the halfpipe remained hazy as ever Friday night when James notched his fourth career victory at the Winter X Games even though he didn't attempt snowboarding's most-difficult trick.

The question heading into the Olympics is whether it's even worth it.

Less than five weeks after becoming the first to do it in competition, Hirano again landed a triple-flipping jump on his first trick. But, as was the case the first time, Hirano could not land the next jump. Riders usually need to land at least five to complete a run, and nobody has yet made a triple cork part of a full run in competition.

It left Hirano, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, with a silver medal in Aspen, as well. And James, who took bronze in Pyeongchang four years ago, earned another gold.

"The triple is so difficult," Hirano said through a translator. "And then, it's also tough to link the next trick."

So far, James' best has featured the switchback double cork 1260 -- a daunting, near-blind trick that involves two head-over-heels flips after riding backward up the wall, then spinning toward the top of the pipe.

He executed it on his first three runs, and the judges placed him ahead of Hirano after the second run. (No scores are given at the X Games, and judges simply rank the riders based on the overall impression of their runs.) Hirano's younger brother, Kaishu, finished third.

"Switch backside still has a lot of clout, which you still don't see that much of," James said. "And I think it played a key part for me tonight against Ayumu."

After Hirano fell on his final run, James, who was last on the start list, simply went for straight airs on a victory lap. This was James' first contest in America this season, and he has been playing it coy about the triple cork.

"I'll leave it as a mystery," he said.

The next chance to find out what, exactly, he's been working on in a secret setting in Europe will come Feb. 11 in the halfpipe finals in the mountains outside Beijing.

Also in the mix there, but absent from Aspen, will be three-time Olympic champion Shaun White and last year's Winter X champion, Yuto Totsuka. Totsuka crashed hard at the last Olympics but has been dominating this sport through most of the last 24 months.

Game notes

Friday's other winners included New Zealand's Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who pulled an upset over two-time Olympic champion Jamie Anderson in snowboard slopestyle, and Tess Ledeux in big air skiing. ... Kelly Sildaru won the women's ski halfpipe for her ninth career X Games medal. That contest was missing defending champion Eileen Gu, who will be the favorite in all three skiing disciplines -- halfpipe, slopestyle and big air -- in Beijing.