Shaun White wins third snowboard halfpipe gold with nerveless final run | Sport
Shaun White is an Olympic champion for a third time, holding off a pair of much younger rivals to win back the halfpipe title that made him a household name when he captured his first gold medal as a teenager.
The 31-year-old American delivered under pressure with a breathtaking final run for a score of 97.75 to eclipse Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano in a see-saw final under on Wednesday morning at the Phoenix Snow Park.
Hirano matched his silver from the Sochi Games four years ago, while Australia’s Scotty James’s opening-run score of 92.00 held up for the bronze.
White, who captured gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics but stunningly finished off the podium in 2014, was in silver position entering the last of three runs after Hirano scored 95.25 with a brilliant second set that included back-to-back 1440s that sent him soaring into the pale gray morning air.
But James washed out on his final run as did Hirano, who missed his chance to turn the screw on the American, setting the stage for a classic denouement.
White matched his younger rival’s consecutive 1440s – a combination he said he hadn’t pulled off cleanly until Wednesday morning – and built from there for a score of 97.75 to capture his third Olympic gold.
After the scores flashed on the board and redemption had been achieved, White tossed his board and dropped to his knees in tears before finding his mother, Cathy, near the finish corral.
“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,” White said. “Honestly it’s one of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done. I didn’t even link the combination, the 14 to 14 (back-to-back 1440s) until I got here, today, this morning. So, honestly, I’m just so happy with my performance. I’m proud of the other riders for pushing me this whole time.”
Four years ago White had entered Sochi Olympics looking to become the first American man to win gold in the same event at three straight Winter Games, even entering the men’s slopestyle event for a shot a multiple medals before withdrawing on the eve of the opening ceremony.
But the San Diego native fell twice on his first attempt of the two-run final and followed it with a conservative run that resulted in a fourth-place finish, a shock outcome that compelled him to take aim at the 2018 Games for a chance to regain his title at 31.
He parted ways with his long-time coach and confidant Bud Keene and largely took off the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. That was before a nasty crash four months ago in New Zealand that required 62 stitches in his face and five days in intensive care, leading to a hurried recovery during which he leaned heavily on his team.
“They were always there to support me and reassure me that what we’re doing is on the right track and they believed in me,” he said. “That really helped me. They’re all here for me today. They’re beside themselves. I’m still shaking, I don’t know what’s happening.”
After returning White showed flashes of his greatness in the run-up to Pyeongchang, earning Olympic qualification with a perfect 100% run at the US Grand Prix in Snowmass. After Hirano outduelled James at last month’s X Games in White’s absence with back-to-back double cork 1440s, all signs pointed to the three-man showdown that played out on Wednesday beneath a sky of endless grey in the Taebaek mountains.
The triumph represented the 100th gold medal won by the United States in Winter Olympics history, second only to Norway (121). The Americans have swept all four golds awarded so far in Pyeongchang after Chloe Kim (women’s halfpipe), Jamie Anderson (women’s slopestyle) and Red Gerard (men’s slopestyle) delivered earlier in the Games.
White’s three individual gold medals are the most for any American at the Winter Games except for speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, who won five each. Only he and Blair won theirs across three different Olympics.
“Man, three gold medals,” he said. “My fourth Olympics. Thank you, I’m feeling blessed.”