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

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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.

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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