Shaun White seals status as living legend with halfpipe winThe pressure was real. So were the tears - of joy, relief, redemption.
One with a perpetual target on his back and impossible expectations to meet.
Standing atop the halfpipe on a gray Wednesday morning at slushy Phoenix Snow Park with his hopes for a third gold down to one final shot, White never wavered.
“I honestly knew I had it,” White said. “I knew I had to put it down.”
The stakes left him little choice. Rising star and heir apparent Ayumu Hirano had snatched the lead out of White’s hand during the men’s halfpipe final, throwing a spectacular epic second run to vault into the lead and putting a portion of White’s Olympic legacy at risk.
Not that it mattered.
One deep breath, a half-dozen near flawless tricks - including back-to-back 1440s, a trick he never landed in competition before these finals - and one seemingly interminable wait later, White’s return to the top of his sport was complete.
The long road back from disappointment in Sochi four years ago. The painful recovery from a crash in New Zealand last fall that required emergency surgery.
The notion the man who for so long served as a pioneer had been surpassed by the next generation.
Not quite yet.
“He wears the weight of the country and the world on his shoulders for this,” said J.J. Thomas, White’s longtime coach. “This is our Super Bowl. But bigger because it’s only once every four years and he stresses out.”
Funny, it didn’t show as he became the first American male to win gold at three separate Winter Olympics.
Speed skater Bonnie Blair won gold in the 1988, 1992 and 1994 Games.
The gold was also the 100th overall gold for the United States in the Winter Games.
“What can I say? I won the Olympics,” White said. “Three gold medals. I was just hoping they’d give it to me. I was pretty sure I put it down but it took a little while. Just trying not to make eye contact with the judges.”
White put together a dazzling first run, throwing a 1440 early on and building from there.
He tossed his helmet toward the crowd when he finished and celebrated in the waiting area while the judges deliberated.
His score of 94.25 was tops after the first of the three finals runs, but Hirano recovered after sitting down during his first trip to put White on notice during the second.
Labeled as snowboarding’s next big thing when he was 13, the 5-foot-2 Hirano, now 19 years old, is a twisting, flipping, boundary-pushing whirl hardly afraid at taking on his idol.
Just not ready, at least this time, to take him down.
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