The biggest hurdle standing between Shaun White and his fourth Olympic gold medal is a trick that once put him in the hospital.
Currently in men's halfpipe, few tricks are as highly regarded as the triple cork 1440, a trick that entails spinning four full rotations while simultaneously inverting three times.
Although men’s slopestyle riders like three-time Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris have been stomping the trick off huge jumps since 2011, few halfpipe riders can pull it off.
Japan’s Ayumu Hirano is the only halfpipe snowboarder who’s attempted and landed the triple cork 1440 in competition. He’s also White’s top competitor. He has consistently placed above White in competitions following PyeongChang and is a two-time silver medalist at the Olympics.
Hirano isn’t the only competitor who brings the heat. Most of the Japanese men’s snowboard halfpipe team has also landed the trick in training, and Australia’s Scotty James is rumored to have been practicing it at a private halfpipe. That being said, no one, including Hirano, has landed a full run including the trick in competition. Hirano has landed the trick twice but immediately washed out on his next trick both times.
As for White, the triple cork is the one trick that’s eluded him his entire career. He attempted it while training for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but it ended in disaster. White soared high above the pipe before smashing backwards into the pipe’s lip and falling down the wall. He put the trick on the backburner for years, and it’s unknown if he’s ever landed it in practice since.
Although White won gold in PyeongChang with consecutive double cork 1440s, the sport is now progressing toward triple corks. He’ll likely need to land one in his run to earn points for progression, especially if Hirano and James stick them.
The question remains: Will White attempt the dangerous maneuver? For what it's worth, he is holding all his secrets regarding the triple cork until the halfpipe final.
"I'm gonna throw everything I've got at it and see what happens," White said after his qualifying run. "If there's a time to do it, that would be it.”
And, if his 2014 documentary, "Russia Calling," is anything to go by, White may bring it out if the competition forces him to.
“If you made me do it, I’d probably stick it,” he said in the documentary.
For White to secure gold at his final Olympics, he may have to stick to his word.