White, Vito safely through to halfpipe finals
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Shaun White saved the drama – and his biggest trick – for the finals at these Olympics, laying down a solid run Wednesday to easily make it through qualifying.
The defending Olympic gold medalist opened his biggest day with a high-flying run that included only one double-flipping trick but still netted a 45.8 on a 50-point scale, the highest score in the first of two qualifying heats.
He said he’s saving his patented trick, the Double McTwist 1260, for Wednesday night’s final, where Louie Vito of “Dancing with the Stars” fame and Japan’s Ryo Aono have also secured spots.
This was a much easier run through qualifying for White than four years ago in Italy, when he fell on his first trip down the mountain and had to wait more than an hour for the second run. He nailed that one successfully, but only after doing some free riding around the mountain to take his mind off the pressure.
“I’m at the top today, and I’m like, ‘Don’t you do it again. Don’t do that,”‘ White said.
White, who fell on his second qualifying run Wednesday – one he didn’t even need to do after posting the earlier score – said he’ll never take qualifying for granted again after what happened four years ago.
“To be honest, I’m more nervous in the qualifying than the finals,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but we’ve practiced our finals run so much. These runs, you’re just in a strange limbo where you do just enough to get in but you don’t show everything.”
This time, it was Vito feeling the pressure after hitting his backside on the lip of the pipe during his first qualifying run. He nailed the second to score a 41.8 and earn the third automatic spot.
“Ultimately, before I dropped in, I just kind of had to thank God and say, ‘Hey, I’m at the Olympics, what is there to feel pressured by?”‘ Vito said. “My goal was to come in and put down a run. If it’s one, if it’s three, if it’s 10, how many ever it is, if I can just put one down, it’s ultimately a successful Olympics for me.”
Three more riders will advance after a second qualifying heat that includes contenders Kazuhiro Kokubo of Japan and the “I-Pod,” Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland. The fourth through ninth finishers in each heat go to a semifinal round, where six more spots in the finals are up for grabs.
Vito said he knows everyone is an underdog in an event where White sets the standard but thinks he’ll get a fair shake.
“The crowd doesn’t have any say,” Vito said. “They might cheer a little louder or something, but the judges know what’s up. They’re not biased, so I think we just leave it up to them.”
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