PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 14, (AFP): Snowboarding legend Shaun White savoured the feeling of “redemption” Wednesday after he produced a jaw-dropping final run to win his third Olympic halfpipe title Wednesday, bringing up a 100th Winter Games gold for the United States in the process.
The 31-year-old, who won at the 2006 Turin Games and in Vancouver four years later, delivered his brilliant best when it really mattered after Japan’s Ayumu Hirano had asked serious questions about the American’s stomach for a fight in Pyeongchang.
Going for broke in the day’s final descent, White held his nerve as he nailed back-to-back 1440 spins to score 97.75 points, pipping Hirano’s second run by just 2.50.
Two-time world champion Scotty James of Australia took bronze after an opening score of 92.00.
“I watched Ayumu beat my previous run’s score and I was pretty frustrated,” said White, known as the “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair.
“The pressure was on,” he added. “I just told myself, ‘you know you got this — it’s what you’ve done your whole life, so savour this moment because you might just win the Olympics’.
“I knew I had it in me to do it.”
As he exited the pipe after that final run, White punched the air in delight but he admitted that what followed was both “awful and amazing” as he waiting agonisingly for his score.
When it finally flashed up, he hurled away his board in excitement and sank to his knees.
“It was an eternity,” he told reporters. “I guess I’m almost expected to do these flawless runs and I can’t help but wonder if they’re kind of going to nit-pick my run because of that.
“I knew I put down an amazing ride and I could walk away with my head held high. But I had to dig deep for this one and getting that score at the end was overwhelming — I was crippled with joy.”
Victory was all the more sweet for White after he flopped in Sochi four years ago.
“My third gold medal at my fourth Olympics,” he sighed. “I’m feeling blessed. It means the world to me to come back from Sochi.
“It was a deja-vu situation, standing there needing to land a run to win the Olympics and I just couldn’t do it (in Sochi). I was defeated in my mind before I dropped in.
“But it’s a rarity you get these opportunities to redeem yourself. I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand (in October) where I busted my face open.
“I actually did the same trick that injured me here in the halfpipe today. So there were a lot of obstacles to overcome and now it’s all worth it. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m still shaking.”
Hirano had to settle for a second silver in a row but paid rich tribute to the victor.
“Shaun is cool like that,” shrugged the 19-year-old Japanese. “To be able to deliver like that with so much pressure is incredible.”
James saw his hopes dashed when he fell on his final effort but was still on an emotional high.
“I’ve had a crazy couple of seasons and stood on a lot of podiums but this one’s definitely sentimental,” said the Australian. “It caught my off guard. I was trying to fight back the tears but I couldn’t do it.”
Team USA have now won all four of snowboarding conditions so far. The 17-year-olds Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, along with fellow American Jamie Anderson, have all won in Pyeongchang, where competitors have struggled with blustery winds.
However, poor visibility caused by light snow made conditions tricky for riders Wednesday and several fell, including Japan’s Yuto Totsuka.
The 16-year-old suffered a horrific crash as he landed on the lip of the pipe and was rushed to hospital after being stretchered away by medics.
Japanese officials said the injury was “not that serious” and that the athlete was undergoing further tests.
Meanwhile, strong winds caused chaos at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
“I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I’ve been through so much to get here.”
However, White’s joy was punctured when he was questioned by reporters over a sex harassment case involving the female former drummer of his band, Bad Things, which he settled out of court last year.
“Honestly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip. But I don’t think so,” said White, when asked if the case had tarnished his legacy.
While the snowboarding went ahead, it was very different elsewhere as high winds forced organisers to close Gangneung’s Olympic Park to visitors and postpone the women’s slalom skiing and the women’s 15km individual biathlon.
At Gangneung, a coastal city, spectators were urged to stay indoors, shops were shut and visitors were turned away from Olympic Park, which houses four ice sports arenas.
High winds have badly disrupted, in particular, the skiing events, meaning a frustrating wait for America’s Mikaela Shiffrin and her bid for multiple medals.
But officials said they had no concerns about fitting in all the ski events, which include another 10 gold medal races before the closing ceremony on February 25.
“If the wind continues to blow for the next 15 days then I guess it might be a problem,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
Wind also delayed in the Nordic combined normal hill event, before Germany’s Eric Frenzel retained his title.
Jorien ter Mors won the women’s 1,000m speed skating, extending the Netherlands’ perfect record in the competition so far, and Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt defended their title in the men’s doubles luge.
The unified Korean women’s ice hockey team ended their Group B campaign with a 4-1 defeat to Japan, following 8-0 thrashings by Switzerland and Sweden.
The two Koreas, the first joint Korean team of any Olympics, enjoyed deafening home support and scored their first goal of the tournament through Korean-American Randi Griffin in the second period.
It comes after North Korea’s Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik successfully reached the pairs figure skating final, supported in the stands by their country’s tightly choreographed “army of beauties” cheering squad.
“There has been no discomfort and now that we have competed, (we could see) how strong our Korean people can be when we are together,” said Kim, 25.
“We are one people sharing the same bloodline.”
North Korea ended months of tension with the South last month when it agreed to attend the Games, sending 22 athletes including 12 players for the hockey team.