Thursday, February 18, 2010
Putting on a show when he didn't even have to, Shaun White capped his gold-medal night on the halfpipe with his signature trick Wednesday — the dangerous, spiraling Double McTwist 1260 — during a victory lap that will go down as nothing short of epic.
The redheaded shredder scored a 48.4 on the final run, even though he was already assured of defending his Olympic title with a score of 46.8 on his first trip. Getting ready to close the night, he debated with his coaches for a minute, then made the decision to go for it.
And he did — jerking his body around to milk the last half of the 3 1/2 twists he crams into two head-over-heels flips.
It was an exclamation point on a spectacular day at the Olympics for the Americans, who already had golds from Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn and speedskater Shani Davis in the bag.
Wearing a white and blue bandanna that goes perfectly with the red hair, White easily outdistanced Finland's Peetu Piiroinen.
American Scotty Lago took bronze to give the United States multiple medals on the halfpipe for the last three Olympics. Including the women, the U.S. halfpipe team has won 12 of the 21 medals awarded since the sport came to the games in 1998.
But has there ever been a bigger snowboarding star than White?
He's the multimillionaire who somehow flashes a businessman's smarts without losing touch with the culture that defines snowboarding — the only sport that would think of bringing snow pants designed to look like torn-up jeans to the Olympic Games.
He keeps it fresh and keeps people guessing.
He skipped the Double McTwist on the first run down the mountain, saying in an interview, "I know I have it in me, but the Olympics is pretty heavy. I was sweating it a little."
But if he were nervous on the first run, it didn't show. And it certainly wasn't anything to apologize for.
Soaring through the crisp, clear, Canadian sky, he flew 25 feet above the halfpipe at the top, linked a pair of spiraling, double-flipping moves in the middle and stayed on his feet the whole way down.
Why does he win?
NBC spelled it out in living color, transposing the shots of White's straight air and that of one of the medal contenders, Iouri Podladtchikov — the "I-Pod." Suffice to say that had they actually been jumping at the same time, White would have landed on I-Pod's head.
In White's case, though, it doesn't always end when he wins.
He has become one of those rare athletes — think Mary Lou Retton's second straight perfect-10 vault at the 1984 Olympics — who makes the victory lap as dramatic as the show.
Knowing he had won, and celebrating at the top, he gathered himself and talked it over with the coach. The conclusion: It is supposed to be about fun.
So he did it. Linking the double corks, losing a little speed on the fourth jump, the one that sets up the finale, but going for it anyway. It wasn't exactly perfect. He had to really twist his body to get the last half twist, but he did it, landed on his feet, and the party that had already started got even bigger.
"That's what Shaun does," said Louie Vito, the Dancing with the Stars star who finished fifth. "He can go up there and lay down a run and take care of business. That's why he is who he is."
Related NPR Stories
The Man Who Cuts The Half Pipe Feb. 17, 2010
Half-Pipe Routine Highlights Dangers At Games Feb. 17, 2010