Shaun White wins Olympic gold; 100th overall for Team USA

Shaun White
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Shaun White has reclaimed his Olympic halfpipe title and won the United States’ 100th all-time gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

And he did it in dramatic fashion, landing back-to-back 1440s as part of a final run that knocked Japan’s Ayumu Hirano out of the top spot.

With the win, White is now the first snowboarder to ever become a three-time Olympic champion. Twelve years after winning his first gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games, he is also the first American man to win the same individual event at three different Winter Olympics.

Much has been made of White’s quest for a third gold medal ever since a disappointing result at the last Olympics, where he finished fourth and lost his Olympic title to Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov.

Podladtchikov was unable to compete in PyeongChang due to a recent injury, but there were two other riders considered to be White’s biggest challengers at these Olympics: Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and Australia’s Scotty James.

VIDEO: Watch Shaun White’s gold-medal run

White, Hirano and James have all stepped up their riding over the course of this season with progressive new runs. In Tuesday’s qualifying round, all three put down heavy runs in an attempt to outdo each other, but they saved their biggest tricks for the final.

James came out on his first run and grabbed the lead after landing a technical run that included back-to-back 1260s up top and a switch backside 1260 — an extremely challenging trick that no other rider has ever done — at the bottom.

But James’ score was quickly eclipsed by White, who was the next rider to drop. White landed a sequence of big tricks but still held back his biggest combination. He was so elated with that run that he unstrapped his helmet and whipped it into the crowd as he rode the corral.

White remained at the top of the leaderboard until Hirano took his second run. That’s where the 19-year-old nailed back-to-back 1440s, a difficult combination of tricks that he used to win X Games just a few weeks ago.

That forced White to up the ante. Up to that point, Hirano had been the only rider to ever land back-to-back 14s in a halfpipe competition. But White told media last week that he had been working on those tricks and planned to try that sequence in PyeongChang.

VIDEO: White can’t hold back the tears after winning gold

The back-to-back 1440s consist of two tricks: first a frontside double cork 1440 on one wall of the halfpipe, followed by the switch version of that trick (called a cab double cork 1440) on the other wall.

If the term “cab double cork 1440” sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was the big trick (the one often referred to as a “YOLO flip”) that Podladtchikov used to help him win gold four years ago in Sochi.

It was also the trick that White struggled to land clearnly, something that cost him an Olympic medal that year.

In order to win gold this year, White would need to land that trick, plus an additional 1440 right before it.

The first attempt didn’t go so well. White did the back-to-back 1440s in his second run — the first time he had ever done so in a competition — but didn’t land the second one cleanly and lost speed. He later fell on his signature trick, the double McTwist 1260.

That created a pressure situation for White on his third run. The final rider to drop, he was already assured of at least a silver medal, but he needed to land a full run, including the back-to-back 1440s, in order to have a shot at overtaking Hirano.

MORE: Watch Shaun White’s first halfpipe run  |  Second run

He landed the frontside double cork 1440 on his first hit, then succesfully put down the cab double cork 1440 to complete the combo. From there he finished out his run with a frontside 540, the double McTwist 1260 and a frontside double cork 1260. And all throughout the run, he showcased the signature amplitude that has made his halfpipe runs a must-see attraction throughout his whole career.

The score from the judges was a 97.75, enough to knock Hirano out of the top spot. And with that, White officially reclaimed his title and avenged the memories of Sochi that have haunted for the past four years.

“Honestly it’s one of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done,” White said, “I didn’t even link the combination, the 14 to 14, until I got here, today, this morning. So, honestly, I’m just so happy with my performance. I’m proud of the other riders for pushing me this whole time.”

Over the last four years, White has found himself pushed by competitors like Hirano and James. He busted his face in New Zealand last year while attempting one of those 1440s, leaving an injury that required 62 stitches. He has said that there were times when he questioned whether it was worth it to continue.

Perhaps that’s why White broke down after seeing his score, the 97.75, come in after his final run.

“Oh man, that was awful and amazing at the same time,” he said. “I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me.”

The U.S. has now won four gold medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and all four have come in snowboarding. Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson won the men’s and women’s slopestyle contests, and Chloe Kim won the women’s halfpipe event.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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