Four years ago, Shaun White was set to make history by becoming snowboarding’s first three-time Olympic gold medalist. But things didn’t quite go according to plan.
Mistakes on both of his runs in the final kept White off the podium and have haunted him for the past four years.
“People ask, ‘When are you going to get over [that loss]?'” White said. “You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it. It’s kind of like you have a scar from falling off a bike, it’s just with you forever.”
At a press conference in PyeongChang last week, White admitted that he was starting to get burned out with snowboarding around that time.
“At the time my heart wasn’t in it,” he said. “After that Olympics, the easy fix is if you weren’t strong enough, if you didn’t have the right tricks. But getting the mindset better is really hard.”
A lot has changed for White over the last four years. He’s no longer playing in a band, he has a new coach, and he seems to be as focused as he’s ever been on snowboarding.
Now he’s in PyeongChang, preparing to compete in what could be one of the most unpredictable Olympic halfpipe contests ever.
The only thing we know for sure is that there will be a new Olympic champion. Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov, who dethroned White for gold in 2014, broke his nose a few weeks ago after a hard crash at X Games. Although he traveled to PyeongChang and took some practice runs through the halfpipe, I-Pod ultimately decided it would be “totally unreasonable” for him to take part in the event.
Even with his long-time rival out of the competition, White will have his work cut out for him as he tries to win his third Olympic gold medal. In particular, there are two other riders – Ayumu Hirano and Scotty James – who have the tricks to contend for an Olympic title as well.
Here’s a look at the “Big Three” of halfpipe snowboarding, as well as a few other contenders who hope to challenge them.
Country: USA | Age: 31
Past Results: Shaun White is one of the biggest stars of the Olympics. He won gold in 2006, then again in 2010, but was unable to get the three-peat in 2014. He finished fourth in Sochi after struggling to land a clean run and is determined to avenge that result in PyeongChang.
What to Expect: White’s best run so far has featured a frontside double cork 1440 and back-to-back 1260s. He confirmed to media in PyeongChang that he hopes to land back-to-back 1440s in his run, a combination that Ayumu Hirano used to win X Games. White’s amplitude is one of the biggest things that sets him apart from other riders in the field.
Country: Japan | Age: 19
Past Results: At the 2014 Olympics, Ayumu Hirano – then just 15 years old – became the youngest snowboarder to ever win an Olympic medal.
What to Expect: A few weeks ago at X Games, Hirano became the first rider to ever land back-to-back double cork 1440s in a halfpipe run. That run, which also included back-to-back 1260s, gave Hirano the victory and is a good expectation for what he’s likely to attempt in PyeongChang. He’s one of the few riders that can challenge White when it comes to amplitude.
Country: Australia | Age 23
Past Results: At the last two Olympics, Scotty James struggled in the halfpipe with back-to-back 21st-place finishes. He also competed in slopestyle four years ago and finished 16th. But after his big breakout last season, he’s now a gold medal contender. James was selected to be Australia’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony this past weekend.
What to Expect: James’ best run so far has included three 1260s – back-to-back double cork 1260s up top and a switch backside double cork 1260 at the bottom. The switch backside 1260 is arguably the most technical trick being done by any rider. James has said that he has at least one other trick he hasn’t shown yet – perhaps some variation of a 1440? – so there could be more still to come from him.
The Rest of the Field
If all of the aforementioned riders land their best runs, those could be the three medalists – even if the order remains entirely up for debate. But anything can happen, and there are other athletes in the medal conversation as well. The two deepest countries, though, are the U.S. and Japan.
USA: As is typically the case, the U.S. has a strong team with Ben Ferguson (a stylish rider who has been a consistent podium contender this season), Chase Josey (a technical rider with a lot of switch tricks) and Jake Pates (a breakout rider this season who has a unique version of the double McTwist 1260 made famous by Shaun White) joining the two-time Olympic champion.
Japan: Four years after Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka captured Japan’s first-ever Olympic snowboarding medals, the rise of the Japanese halfpipe team has continued. Hirano and Hiraoka will be joined in PyeongChang by Raibu Katayama and Yotu Totsuka. Totsuka, just 16 years old, is a major dark horse in this event after he exploded onto the scene and won the World Cup title this year.
How to Watch
NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Links to each stream are below.
Qualifying: Monday, Feb. 12, 11:00 p.m. ET
Final: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 8:30 p.m. ET