PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Cometh the hour, cometh the snowboarder.
Shaun White, the snowboarding legend, stood at the top of the halfpipe for the final run of the competition. After holding the early lead, he had slipped to second behind his much younger rival, Ayumu Hirano of Japan. Now he had to put up a spectacular run to claim his third career gold medal.
Landing a 1440 was not likely to be enough. White would have to match Hirano with back-to-back 1440s.
And darned if he did not do it. White soared high above the pipe, ran off a run of staggeringly difficult tricks and landed them all. The result, a 97.75, won him his third gold medal.
After learning that he had won, White howled in victory, hurled his board, then dropped to his knees in tears. When he embraced his mother, Cathy White, the tears flowed even more heavily.
“I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me,” White said.
“I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand 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.”
White had been disappointed to finish only fourth in the halfpipe in 2014, after golds the previous two Olympics. And at 31, he showed he still had what it takes to be on top of the snowboarding world, leaving Hirano, 19, and Scotty James of Australia, 23, behind in the silver and bronze positions.
On his first run, he delivered a classic Shaun White routine, the kind fans have been seeing for a decade. The elevation, the rotations and the landings were there, and he scored a 94.25. But with the rise of his younger contenders and the increasing dazzle and danger for the sport, the feeling was there that it was not quite good enough for a gold.
Sure enough, young Hirano surpassed him on his second run, popping back to back 1440s. When White fell on run 2, it set up the classic finale.
“Honestly it’s one of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done,” White said of Run 3. “I didn’t even link the combination, the 14 to 14 until I got here, today, this morning. So, honestly, I’m just so happy with my performance. I’m proud of the other riders for pushing me this whole time.”
Coincidentally, White’s gold medal was the 100th for the United States in the Winter Games. Few have been as dramatic.