Shaun White has a habit of stealing the spotlight, thanks to three Olympic gold medals.
This Olympics, his story in the halfpipe has a twist. He came in as a 35-year-old underdog, but one motivated by knowing that this will be his last Olympics, and maybe his last competition.
Making the podium was a possibility, but so was failing to reach the final at all.
White was one of 25 riders trying to advance to Friday’s 12-man final. Each competitor on Wednesday was given two runs, with only the better score counting in the rankings.
He fell midway through his first qualifying run, leaving his last Olympic hopes on an all-or-nothing second try.
No stranger to pressure, White landed a big second run, flipping his goggles up and waving his arms at the end. Even before the 86.25 score was announced, he knew it was likely to be enough to reach another Olympics final. He came in fourth overall.
Friday’s competition is sure to be a prime-time hit in the United States on Thursday night. The three runs there might be the last three runs White ever takes in a halfpipe competition.
White knew that he could struggle to keep up with the halfpipe event in 2022. He used to dictate the next-level tricks. These days, several riders, most of them from Japan, came with hopes of landing triple corks — tricks with three off-axis rotations in the mode of a corkscrew.
The favorites for gold are Australia’s Scotty James and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, twice an Olympic silver medalist. Both advanced easily, and only James may ride in the way of a Japanese podium sweep.
The best American hope could be Taylor Gold, a 2014 Olympian who struggled through several years of serious injuries leading through the 2018 Games, which he missed. His inventive style landed him in the final.
Gold’s sister, Arielle Gold, won an Olympic bronze medal in 2018.
But Wednesday’s focus was on White. In his first four Olympics, White missed the top step of the podium only once, in Sochi, Russia, eight years ago. This time, getting a medal at all will be the bigger surprise.
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