The biggest name in winter sports sealed halfpipe gold in a nail-biting final on day 5 in Pyeongchang, reminding everybody why he’s still the undisputed king of the slopes.With flame-red hair and an awe-inspiring array of tricks, Shaun White isn’t an easy man to overlook. But in a week that’s seen two American teenagers steal the show on their Olympic snowboarding debuts, the man from California has found himself nudged out of the spotlight. Well, by his own standards anyway.
His performance in the men’s halfpipe final on day 5 in Pyeongchang put an end to that, and served as a reminder that he’s still the king when it comes to the slopes. He meant business from the first run, emerging from the platform last to set a new benchmark of 94.25. It was a thrilling run, opening with a giant frontside double-cork 1440 and a combo of 1260s before finishing with a McTwist. He tossed his helmet into the air in triumph before his board had even come to a stop.
Down to the wire
It was his third run that mattered, though. By this stage, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano had bumped him off top spot after a near-flawless second run which scored 95.25. He couldn’t repeat this feat in the third run, however, leaving White with a final shot at glory. A frontside double cork 1440, back-to-back 1440s and a double McTwist did the rest. It was an emphatic victory under huge pressure.
“Oh man, that was awful and amazing at the same time,” White told reporters on the mountainside. “I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me.”
Fight back to fitness
White’s third Olympic gold medal could well his hardest earned. The 31-year old sustained severe facial injuries during a practice session in October which threatened to derail his preparation for these games. The wound required 62 stitches, but it was the psychological scar that was of greater concern.
“I was crushing practice, things were great, and just one kind of little mess up, and – boom! – I’m being helicoptered to the hospital,” he told ABC this week. “”You step out there knowing the dangers, and it’s intimidating, but that’s what it’s all about: overcoming those fears and those odds.”
Any signs of anxiety appear to have been overcome since arriving in Pyeongchang. White coasted into the men’s halfpipe final with a qualifying score of 98.25. The White that swept gold at the 2006 and 2010 Olympic games appeared to be back.
After Red Gerard stunned the competition to claim gold in the men’s slopestyle on Sunday, and Chloe Kim become the youngest ever women’s halfpipe champion on Tuesday, the pressure was on White to prove that he was still the boss of US snowboarding. His response did more than that, proving once again that he belongs among the all-time greats.