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Vegemite kid shines at Sochi

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An American-raised snowboarder whose great uncle invented Vegemite was the surprise top-finisher for Australia in the halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

Kent Callister was the only member of the Australian men’s team to make it through to the final on Tuesday in what turned out to be a disappointing day for teammates Scotty James and Nate Johnstone.

Russia’s Iouri Podladtchikov ended up taking gold, with Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka winning silver and bronze.

Little-known Callister, who speaks with a broad American accent and is based in Oregon, moved from the Gold Coast when young but chose to compete for Australia.

And the 18-year-old was certainly the most competitive Australian at the Extreme Park course, finishing in ninth as James (21st) and Johnstone (13th) failed to progress to the final.

“That’s the best contest I’ve been in and probably the best day of my life too,” Callister said.

James’ finish was most disappointing, with the 19-year-old two-time Olympian not making it out of initial qualifying.

First down the `pipe in his heat, he appeared to be underscored at 68.5 points and then he crashed on the second run.

“It’s a bit devastating when you work for something so hard and it doesn’t go your way,” he said, adding that he’d had some stomach upsets over the past few days.

“I hate blaming it on the judges; obviously at the end of the day it’s me that didn’t make it and I didn’t do enough to make it through.

“I’m very curious, I’d like to ask them (the judges) but it’s just unfortunate.

“When you drop first they score you low to give room to a lot of people.

“The one thing that really really frustrated me with that is I just don’t understand how Shaun White crashed, didn’t even finish his run and he beat me.

“That’s just absolutely gobsmacked me.”

White, who went on to finish fourth, had already laid down his qualifying run but strangely registered a higher score than James despite falling over in his second effort.

Johnstone also had something of a hard luck story, moving through to the semi-finals but then finishing a place out of the final.

Despite a modest run he looked well-placed to progress and was sitting in the last finals spot until edged by the final rider.

While medals weren’t really on the agenda for either snowboarder, James would have been eyeing off a top six finish after an impressive fourth place at the X Games last month.

Johnstone, the 2011 world halfpipe champion, was ruled out of the 2010 Games just two weeks before with a spiral fracture of the ankle.

Injury and a World Cup cancellation meant he’d had a very quiet lead-up to the Sochi event.

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