Sunday, January 19, 2014
MAMMOTH LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Shaun White skipped the Friday morning Olympic snowboarding qualifier to get some needed rest, a calculated risk considering the two-time Olympic gold medalist still wasn't assured of a spot in Sochi for his signature event.
Two thrilling trips down Mammoth Mountain later in the afternoon all but solved that problem. Oh, and they sent a message too.
The sport's greatest ever is still on top of his game. In fact, he's building on it.
Soaring through the California air looking very much like someone intent on making history, White dominated the afternoon session, posting a score of 98.6 to move closer to one of the four spots on the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team.
Even better, he did it while landing the latest wrinkle in his ever-expanding repertoire.
White nailed a frontside double-cork 1440 in competition for the first time during his second run, a trick he spent the run-up to Sochi obsessing over. The payoff came in the middle of his run as he packed four full twists and two flips inside in one physics-defying leap.
Not bad considering a needed win was already assured. White posted a 97 during his first run, which included his usual double McTwist 1260. The new skill adds half a rotation, which he says changes it completely.
Maybe, but the results haven't changed a bit. White pumped his fists when his score was posted in a mixture of relief and joy.
"I was treating it like an Olympic event, which it is," White said. "I wanted to up my score. I wanted to do something under pressure ... I'm happy I landed it."
It also avoided any second-guessing after White decided to skip the morning event after a busy Thursday in which he wiped out during a slopestyle qualifying event to return to the top of the hill hours later and win, securing a berth on the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team in the process.
"I just figured if I could pull it out yesterday I should be able to do it today and that inspired me to get up and make it happen," White said. "Taking the morning off was the best call I think I've made."
Looked like it. Scotty Lago, who won bronze behind White in Vancouver in 2010, thrust himself back into the mix for Sochi by finishing second. Taylor Gold wrapped up his seat in Sochi by finishing third.
The U.S. is so stacked in the halfpipe making the Olympic team could be even more difficult than reaching the podium in Russia. Yet White left little doubt the chasm he's created between himself and the rest of the world hasn't moved much in the last four years.
"I was really on the edge of my physical abilities," White said. "I was so fatigued from slopestyle. But I did a run that I've never ever in my career done, so I'm happy. I've got to push through all the way to Sochi. I've just got to keep going."
The field behind Gold, White and Greg Bretz is a jumbled mess, with a half-dozen jockeying for the one spot that remains up for grabs. It's a field that now includes enigmatic Danny Davis after Davis pulled out a stunning win during the morning session.
The 25-year-old was considered the snowboarder with the best shot at challenging White in Vancouver. Davis even beat White in a qualifying event barely a month before the games only to have his pelvis crushed in an all-terrain vehicle accident. He's spent most of the last quadrennial trying to stay healthy.
During a dynamic run, he looked more than healthy. He looked competitive. His 95.20 was enough to edge Gold by 1.2 points and give Davis hope of joining White in Sochi.
"I've had a rough four years of getting hurt and this year was about getting good at snowboarding again," Davis said. "If I make the Olympic team, it's cool because it's another accomplishment in my life I've yet to make."
Kelly Clark, who took gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, remained perfect by sweeping both women's events on Friday. The two-time Olympic medalist is guaranteed a spot on the team. The other three spots are a toss-up, though 2006 Olympic champion and 2010 silver medalist Hannah Teter bolstered her bid by finishing third and now has two straight top-four finishes.