PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The pressure was real. So were the tears — of joy, relief, redemption.
This is why Shaun White keeps going. This is why the snowboarding superstar returns to the Olympics again and again, a journey that’s seen him evolve from teenage phenom to global brand to icon. One with a perpetual target on his back and impossible expectations to meet.
Standing atop the halfpipe on a gray Wednesday morning at slushy Phoenix Snow Park with his hopes for a third gold down to one final shot. White never wavered.
“I honestly knew I had it,” White said. “I knew I had to put it down.”
The stakes left him little choice. Rising star and heir apparent Ayumu Hirano had snatched the lead out of White’s hand during the men’s halfpipe final, throwing a spectacular epic second run to vault into the lead and put a portion of White’s Olympic legacy at risk.
One deep breath, a half-dozen near flawless tricks — including back-to-back 1440s, a trick he never landed in competition before these finals — and one seemingly interminable wait later White’s return to the top of his sport was complete.
When his score of 97.75 flashed, more than two points clear of Hirano and almost six clear of Australian bronze medalist Scotty James, it all seemed worth it. The long road back from disappointment in Sochi four years ago. The painful recovery from a crash in New Zealand last fall that required emergency surgery. The notion the man who for so long served as a pioneer had been surpassed by the next generation.
Not quite yet.
“He wears the weight of the country and the world on his shoulders for this,” said J.J. Thomas, White’s longtime coach. “This is our Super Bowl. But bigger because it’s only once every four years and he stresses out.”
Hardly looked like it. White’s stomped third run made him the first American male to win gold at three separate Winter Olympics.