After falling far short of expectations at PyeongChang 2018, the Japanese halfpipe maestro is finally ready for the big time at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
For Totsuka Yuto, Beijing 2022 will be about redemption.
Hopes were high for the then 16-year-old halfpipe artist at PyeongChang 2018, where the Japanese prodigy was making his Winter Olympic Games debut.
Totsuka had thrown down the gauntlet to snowboarding’s biggest names like compatriot Hirano Ayumu and Shaun White by winning on his World Cup debut in Cardrona, New Zealand, back in 2017.
The promising Japanese snowboarder went on to capture the overall World Cup title in the halfpipe after finishing on the podium in all four appearances, emerging as a strong favourite to medal in PyeongChang.
But the Games proved to be unkind to young Totsuka, who crash-landed – hard, on his lower back – on his second run and had to be stretchered off the slopes, straight to hospital.
He ended up 11th in the standings.
“It sucked, but it is what it is”, Totsuka recalled of his forgettable Olympic debut at a press event hosted by the Ski Association of Japan, ahead of the new World Cup season.
“I didn’t have what it takes at the last Games in PyeongChang – both mentally and technically. I’ve improved since then and I’m sure I can compete at the highest level in the world.
“The Olympics is an event I haven’t won gold in so I really want to win it. If I do, it takes me to a whole new place”.
Learning to fly
Fast forward four years from PyeongChang 2018 and the teenage kid from Yokohama has come into his own.
Flashing a frontside double cork 1440 – and said to be working on a triple – Totsuka was untouchable during the 2020-2021 season, sweeping all four competitions he entered.
That includes the Winter X Games – becoming the first-ever winner from Japan – and the world championships, where he dethroned three-time defending champion Scotty James by almost six points.
Totsuka is only the second Japanese world champion after Aono Ryo in 2009.
Totsuka: I can win a gold medal in Beijing
With the wins steadily piling up under his belt, Totsuka will head to Beijing with a bull’s eye on his back but he doesn’t mind it one bit.
Not to mention the three medallists from PyeongChang – White, Hirano and James – will be out to reclaim their stake to put a stop to the juggernaut that is Totsuka.
But wiser and stronger compared to four years ago, Totsuka is convinced that this time, he is ready to meet the Olympic challenge.
“I had the perfect season last year. This season is the Olympic season and I need to sharpen up. I want to win every competition on the calendar”, he said.
“I know people are paying attention to me after I won everything last season. I do feel anxious from time to time.
“But I have a lot of confidence in myself. If I perform the way I’m capable of performing, I can win a gold medal”.