PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Shaun White sat on the couch at home and watched history’s best halfpipe contest unfold.
He’s planning on making the next contest — the one where they hand out the Olympic gold medal — an even better show.
White said Thursday that he is working on the tricks that Japan’s Ayumu Hirano used to win the Winter X Games last month. Hirano became the first person to string together back-to-back 1440s in what was widely regarded as the best show ever seen in a halfpipe.
“I’m excited to compete with him,” White said. “He’s really pushing it, and he did an amazing combination that I’m working on myself. I don’t think we’ve seen my best run.”
White’s best run, at least this season, came at Snowmass in an Olympic qualifier in January. White used one 1440, along with his patented double McTwist 1260, to win the contest with a maximum score of 100 — one of the rare times that mark has ever been handed out.
It established him as the man to beat at the Olympics. But a short two weeks later came X Games, where Hirano strung together his back-to-back 1440s — the first time that had ever been done in a competition — and Scotty James finished a close second on a run that included three 1260s, including one in which he rides and spins backward into the wall to execute the double cork.
“To this point, it was the most progressive halfpipe contest we’d ever seen,” said JJ Thomas, the 2002 bronze medalist who coaches White. “And I think now, as long as the weather holds up, this one will probably be even better.”
Practice on the Olympic halfpipe starts Friday, with the men’s final set for next Wednesday in South Korea (Tuesday night in the U.S.).
White is in his fourth Olympics. Though he has two gold medals and is, far and away, the most recognizable figure in his sport, he concedes his fourth-place finish in Sochi was a blow.
“It was a nice eye-opener for me of what life’s really like,” he said. “The bubble is shattered, and what’s next? I was able to make that decision.”
The decision was to keep moving forward, upping the ante, and the risk, in order to return to the top. For White more than anyone, that means only one thing: winning the Olympics.
And yet, for the second straight Olympics, he’ll come in not setting the bar, the way he did in 2010 with the double McTwist, but trying to duplicate tricks someone else has done.
Heading into 2014, Iouri Podladtchikov showed off his YOLO flip — which was the first 1440 landed in competition — then brought it into the Olympics, where he landed it and White did not.
Heading into 2018, it’s Hirano’s back-to-back 1440s.
“That’s king right now,” Thomas said.
White was impressed, too. But he is not one to back down.
“It was great to watch those guys runs and see their best,” White said. “Now, I get a chance to throw my best and see how it stacks up.”