In what could be the greatest halfpipe competition there's ever been, legendary U.S. snowboarder Shaun White attempts to win a fourth gold Friday while dropping in for the final runs of his career at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Competing in Tuesday's qualifying, the 35-year-old became the oldest-ever men's halfpipe competitor, under-rotating a signature double McTwist 1260 on his first run before triumphantly returning to stomp the trick in Run 2 and score an 86.25.
White enters his fifth Olympic final as the No. 4 qualifier behind Ayumu Hirano of Japan, Aussie Scotty James and Japan's Ruka Hirano, and for the first time ever at the Games is not considered one of the favorites to win gold.
That distinction currently belongs to Ayumu Hirano, a two-time Olympic silver medalist; James, the 2018 bronze medalist; Japan's Yuto Totsuka, the reigning world champion; and 2020 Youth Olympic gold medalist Ruka Hirano, who is not related to Ayumu.
The snowboarding icon told TODAY last month that this would likely be his "last run," then confirmed the decision at a pre-Games presser. He said he realized it was time during a surreal moment while alone on a chairlift watching the sun go down.
White took more than three years off from competition following his victory in South Korea. He began the 2022 U.S. Olympic qualifying period just off the Aspen podium in fourth, then took eighth at Copper and seventh at Dew Tour before landing a third-place finish at January's Laax Open to essentially seal his monumental fifth Games berth.
Halfpipe progression and talent is as fierce as it's ever been. A big question coming in is who can land the triple cork? And will it influence scores as much as it's been talked up? The trick consists of three off-axis flips and is impossible to miss while watching.
Ayumu Hirano, Totsuka and Ruka Hirano not only have a solid chance to sweep the podium but all landed the triple last fall in preseason camps. Ayumu Hirano became the first rider to land a triple in competition at December's Dew Tour.
The trio has dominated this season: Ayumu Hirano won January's Mammoth Grand Prix and Laax Open; Totsuka topped last season's Aspen Grand Prix and December's Dew Tour; and Ruka Hirano took first at December's Copper Grand Prix.
Add in Aussie Scotty James, fresh off winning a fourth X Games title after spending much of the season in secrecy, and White has a tall order to fill. But if there's anyone who should never be counted out of a contest, it's him.
When asked if he would consider repeating his historic PyeongChang run in 2022, he said, “If that’s the bar, I want to up it from there. There’s different combinations I’m dreaming of… You want to be the person doing something big, new and exciting.”
The Carlsbad, California, native just missed making the 2002 Olympics at age 15. JJ Thomas, now his coach, was the rider who took the team's last spot. Four years later he made his Olympic debut at the Torino Games as a mop-haired 19-year-old.
Despite up-and-down results this season and stiff competition, White still has an outside chance at a medal with plenty of past moments to substantiate being a threat no matter what.
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