Snowboarding legend Shaun White savoured the feeling of “redemption” after he produced a jaw-dropping final run to win his third Olympic halfpipe title today, bringing up a 100th Winter Games gold for the United States in the process.
The 31-year-old, who won at the 2006 Turin Games and in Vancouver four years later, delivered his brilliant best when it really mattered after Japan’s Ayumu Hirano had asked serious questions about the American’s stomach for a fight in Pyeongchang.
Going for broke in the day’s final descent, White held his nerve as he nailed back-to-back 1440 spins to score 97.75 points, pipping Hirano’s second run by just 2.50.
Two-time world champion Scotty James of Australia took bronze after an opening score of 92.00.
“I watched Ayumu beat my previous run’s score and I was pretty frustrated,” said White, known as the “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair.
“The pressure was on,” he added. “I just told myself: ‘You know you got this – it’s what you’ve done your whole life, so savour this moment because you might just win the Olympics.’
“I knew I had it in me to do it.”
But White’s mood soured later when quizzed over sexual harassment allegations dating back to an out-of-court settlement reportedly reached last year with Lena Zawaideh, former drummer in his band Bad Things.
Asked whether the claims, which resurfaced online after his victory in Pyeongchang, tarnished his legacy, White snapped: “Honestly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip. But I don’t think so.
“I’m proud of who I am, and my friends love me and vouch for me. I think that stands on its own,” he added.
White was trending online after his spectacular triumph.
As he exited the pipe on his final run, White punched the air in delight but he admitted that what followed was both “awful and amazing” as he waited agonisingly for his score.
When it finally flashed up, he hurled away his board in excitement and sank to his knees.
“It was an eternity,” he told reporters. “I guess I’m almost expected to do these flawless runs and I can’t help but wonder if they’re kind of going to nit-pick my run because of that.
“I knew I put down an amazing ride and I could walk away with my head held high. But I had to dig deep for this one and getting that score at the end was overwhelming – I was crippled with joy.”
Victory was all the more sweet for White after he flopped in Sochi four years ago.
“My third gold medal at my fourth Olympics,” he sighed. “I’m feeling blessed. It means the world to me to come back from Sochi.
“It was a deja-vu situation, standing there needing to land a run to win the Olympics and I just couldn’t do it [in Sochi]. I was defeated in my mind before I dropped in.
“But it’s a rarity you get these opportunities to redeem yourself. I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand [in October] 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. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m still shaking.”
Hirano had to settle for a second silver in a row but paid rich tribute to the victor.
“Shaun is cool like that,” shrugged the 19-year-old Japanese. “To be able to deliver like that with so much pressure is incredible.”
Third-placed James saw his hopes dashed when he fell on his final effort but was still on an emotional high.
“I’ve had a crazy couple of seasons and stood on a lot of podiums but this one’s definitely sentimental,” the Australian said.
“It caught my off guard. I was trying to fight back the tears but I couldn’t do it.”
Team USA have now won all four snowboarding golds on offer so far.
The 17-year-olds Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, along with fellow American Jamie Anderson, have all won in Pyeongchang, where competitors have struggled with blustery winds.
However, poor visibility caused by light snow made conditions tricky for riders today and several fell, including Japan’s Yuto Totsuka.
The 16-year-old suffered a horrific crash as he landed on the lip of the pipe and was rushed to hospital after being stretchered away by medics.
Japanese officials said the injury was “not that serious” and that the athlete was undergoing further tests.