Halfpipe superstar Shaun White makes Olympic statement with perfect 100 in Snowmass Grand Prix
The Aspen Times
Shaun White faced a dilemma entering his final run during Saturday’s Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass. He thought about taking it easy, maybe sneaking onto the men’s halfpipe podium and securing his Olympic spot.
But the 31-year-old snowboarder from California didn’t become the superstar he is by taking it easy. If something groundbreaking is about to happen in a halfpipe competition, somehow he’s usually involved.
This very well could be the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s last Olympic hurrah. And he wanted a storybook ending.
“It was this huge debate. Do you play it safe and do you make the team, or do you try to win it?” White said. “That was heavy. I was pretty pumped. This was exactly what I wanted, though. I wanted to come here. I wanted to win the qualifying, drop in last and get the final say and that’s exactly what happened.”
What White also got was perfection. He was the last of the 10 finalists to drop into the Snowmass halfpipe Saturday afternoon, with Australia’s Scotty James holding serve, his final run score of 96.25 looking unbeatable. Then White did what only White could and only White has done in a men’s halfpipe competition at this level.
He put down arguably the best run of his storied career, scored a perfect 100, and punched his ticket to next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“That was definitely one of the highest-level snowboard contests I’ve ever seen. That’s the one that gets you off the couch and your heart beating,” said X Games host Jack Mitrani, a former competitive snowboarder who was in attendance Saturday. “Shaun, unbelievable the way he just put it all on the line in the last run. I was expecting him to do something a little safer, but he went for it and he threw down one of the best runs of his life.”
Only one other time has a men’s snowboarder scored a perfect 100 in a competition like this, and that was also White back in the 2012 Winter X Games in Aspen. In that run, he landed an 18-foot backside air, a frontside double cork 1080, a cab double cork 1080, a frontside stalefish 540, a double McTwist 1260 and a frontside double cork 1260. It was the first time anyone had landed the frontside double cork 1260 in competition.
California teen Chloe Kim is the only woman to have scored 100 in a halfpipe competition, doing so in a 2016 U.S. Grand Prix in Park City, Utah.
As amazing as the finish to Saturday’s competition was, the start was equally as dull. Eagle’s Jake Pates led after a run with an 85.75, while Japan’s Yuto Totsuka passed him with an 88.50 in his second run. White’s first run was a scratch and his second run was strong until a mistake toward the end left him with only 63.75.
The four best scores of the competition all came within the final five runs of the third and final round.
“I love the three-run format,” Mitrani said. “It really pushes riders to throw their absolute hardest run they can do.”
The chaos started when Pates retook the lead, scoring 94 on his final run. A rider later was James, the reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist, who scored his 96.25 in what would be the winning run on most days. Oregon’s Ben Ferguson didn’t touch his second-run score of 85.25 as the third-to-final athlete, but Totsuka answered with a 94.50 to once again jump ahead of Pates and onto the podium but not quite catch James.
It all came down to one final run through the halfpipe. White, who had yet to secure a spot on the Olympic team, needed a Shaun White moment to happen.
His final run included a frontside 1440 to cab double 1080, frontside 540, tomahawk and a frontside double 1260. The final trick was something he had still been working on perfecting only a few days prior in training.
“That was just so unreal,” White said. “I was almost in tears. I shed a couple. Honestly, to be rewarded for that run, I dug super deep for it and they hooked it up.”
White’s win secures him a spot on the Olympic team with only next week’s qualifier in Mammoth to go. While neither finished on the podium, Ferguson and Pates — who once trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club — are also a lock for the Olympics, a first for both. James and Totsuka will almost certainly represent their countries in next month’s Games in South Korea.
“It was a little questionable at the end there, but it is what it is. I’ll move on,” James said of White’s final run. “It’s no stutter in my step, so I’ll just keep on thriving forward. It’s been the reality of my career. I’m from Australia and it’s unusual for us to be doing as well as I am on this stage. I’m very proud of that and I have the Australians behind me this week, so I’m feeling good.”
While three U.S. men’s halfpipe Olympic team spots are a lock based off points, next week’s competition in Mammoth will decide the fourth. 2014 Olympian Danny Davis remains the favorite for the spot despite his eighth-place finish in Snowmass. Idaho’s Chase Josey, sixth in Snowmass, and two-time Olympian Greg Bretz, ninth in Snowmass, are also in the mix.
This will be White’s fourth trip to the Winter Olympics. He won halfpipe gold in both 2006 and 2010 before finishing fourth in 2014. Of all his accomplishments, White said his greatest achievement is having remained in the sport as long as he has.
“I’m so excited. I’m just going to take this run I’m doing now and just build. Get it bigger, better — more technical tricks,” White said. “Now the pressure is kind of off. I get to train. Mammoth will be fun practice, but it’s not like everything is boiling down to the last Olympic qualifier to make the team. We locked it up big time.”
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