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The greatest! Shaun White’s clutch gold proves he’s the greatest Winter Olympian of his generation

Olympics Wire logo Olympics Wire 2/14/2018 Chris Chase
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In a career full of brilliance, Shaun White saved the best for last.

Standing in the gate as the final rider of the day and stuck in second place after some controversial judging, the American superstar needed a flawless run to come from behind and beat Japan’s Ayumu Hirano to win gold at the 2018 Winter Olympic, White dropped in, tuned out and put together the greatest run of his life – snatching the title away from Hirano and jumped even higher into the record books by winning his third gold medal in the snowboard in what figures to be his final Olympic performance.

It was the most exciting Olympic moment since Michael Phelps out-touched Milorad Cavic for gold-medal No. 7 in Beijing, one decade ago.

A few minutes before White was celebrating his newest addition to the trophy case, gold seemed so far away. The first of White’s three runs was nearly perfect and, at the time, figured to be good enough to win the whole thing. (Snowboarders get three runs on the halfpipe but only their best score counts.) But Hirano nailed his second run – putting together back-to-back 1440s – and took a controversial one-point led on White.


When the American fell on run No. 2 disaster felt imminent. White said his stunning fourth-place finish in Sochi has never left him but it would have been nothing compared to a one-point loss in Pyeonchang. For some, silver is the achievement of a lifetime. For Shaun White, it would have been his scarlet letter, a constant (if inaccurate) reminder that the end of his career couldn’t match the brilliance of the start. Two golds in his first two Olympics, one silver in his last two. His legacy was solidified long ago, but his legend still had room to grow.

Oh, did it ever. With the weight of his athletic career on his board, White put together one of the most clutch performances the Winter Olympics has seen in years, maybe not since Dan Jansen won gold in his final race at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. This was like Tom Brady getting the ball with three minutes left in the Super Bowl, except this time, the all-time great made it happen.

Though it’ll be a mere footnote in the record books, White may have won the halfpipe 24 hours before he actually won the halfpipe. He and his two main competitors (Hirano and Scotty James of Australia) threw down stellar qualifying runs on Tuesday. Each was set to safely move on to the finals. Usually, snowboarders would be content to play it safe on their second run, seeing as how they were already into the final. But neither James nor Hirano did. White was game and ended up with a top score of 98.5. That proved crucial, allowing the 31-year-old to go last in the finals, something that worked to his advantage. He knew exactly what kind of run he needed to win gold and executed it to perfection.

White has said for the past four years that the massive disappointment he experienced in Sochi had never left him. On Wednesday night, he left that memory at the top of a halfpipe, never to return.


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