What’s next for Shaun White after ‘frustrating’ halfpipe finish?

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Shaun White turned to face his coach, Bud Keene, about 20 minutes after he finished fourth.

“You’re all right,” Keene said. “That’s all I care about.”

White sighed.

“You’ve got plenty left in you,” Keene said. “Plenty left in you.”

But how much?

White’s Olympic future is in the air after he finished off the top step of a podium for the first time in three Winter Games.

At 27, he was the oldest rider in the 12-man final Tuesday night at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Of the 64 all-time Olympic men’s halfpipe finalists, one has been over the age of 28. White will be 31 at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Will he try for a fourth Winter Games?

VIDEO: Watch Shaun White’s two final runs

“I’m not sure,” White said as he walked to his next interview. “That’s the last thing I’m going to think about for a while.” (He had a slightly more concrete answer on Wednesday.)

Another question to ponder: Is this the end of the era of White dominating halfpipe competitions?

“It’s definitely not,” said the new Olympic champion, Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov, one of White’s best friends among snowboarders.

VIDEO: The science behind the “YOLO” flip

White could very well take a break, tour with his band, chew his brand of gum and come back to beat Podladtchikov, silver medalist Ayumu Hirano and the top Americans. But, at some point, he will lose to the one opponent who is undefeated – Father Time.

We’ve seen his Olympic sports contemporaries dip out of invincibility – Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, even Roger Federer. One day Usain Bolt will no longer be the world’s fastest man, and that day may be approaching more quickly than one may think.

Snowboarding is not immune to aches and pains, aging and fading.

White won’t use it as an excuse, but he’s cut back on training due to ankle problems the last year. He injured one in August in New Zealand, then the other in December in Colorado. He’s faceplanted, fallen on his butt and given himself a black eye. It adds up.

“I’m going to go home now and lick the wounds,” White said, “and come back.”

White’s next hit will not come in a superpipe but with his band, he hopes. Bad Things plans to go back on tour this spring after releasing their debut album in January. He plans to take his mind off snowboarding by returning to his other sport, skateboarding, too.

But the fire must still burn. White is notorious for his competitive streak, one that seems to run in the genes of sport’s greatest champions.

VIDEO: Shaun White says “it just wasn’t my day”

White said he owes his ascension to the few riders who have beaten him and forced him to fly higher, spin faster and add new tricks.

How much will this defeat pump him up?

“It takes a minute,” White said, genuinely smiling through most of the interview. “It’s not like tonight’s really going to be like that night. But it will happen later on if that happens. Now is the deep depression part. You hit bottom, and you come back up. That’s what happens. It’s competition. It’s frustrating. That’s why it’s great. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”

It’s also hard to say that after one compromised competition during an injury-hit season that White is no longer the same awe-inspiring rider.

Many complained about the slushiness of the pipe, even the Olympic champion. It’s possible that affected White during his flawed runs, or in his head.

“He could continue to compete at the top level for a long time,” said 2002 and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass, whom White saw as the man to beat when he was a teenager. “It’s hard to see pipe riding get pushed that much higher.”

VIDEO: A ‘YOLO’ flip delivered for I-Pod

There’s also the fact that this was the first Olympic halfpipe competition without a U.S. medalist. The winner was born in Russia and grew up in Switzerland. Second and third were Japanese.

White is arguably facing more international competition than Kass did. The U.S. swept the Olympic podium in 2002, but Kass doesn’t see it much different now.

“You always have good riders, you’ve seen great riders come out of Japan and Switzerland [before],” Kass said of two countries that have produced prior Olympic and X Games medalists.

Podladtchikov called it a weird feeling to beat White, that he had never done it at a serious event before. To that end, he, like everybody else, isn’t quite sure what comes next.

“I don’t want to know what’s going on in his head,” Podladtchikov said.

Podladtchikov asked White to celebrate with him. White obliged and said he would share a drink, “as much as it’s going to break my soul to do it.”

Will it be his last call at the Olympics? We’ll see how much is left in him.

“I don’t think it makes or breaks my career,” White said. “It’s just one night.”

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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