Shaun White finishes 8th in first event of Olympic season

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Shaun White finished eighth in his first snowboard competition of the Olympic season, a testament to how difficult it will be to go for a fourth gold medal in two months.

Japan’s Ruka Hirano won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, with an 89.25-point first run.

Swiss Jan Scherrer was second, followed by last season’s top rider, Yuto Totsuka, and two-time Olympic silver medalist Ayumu Hirano, both of Japan.

A fourth Japanese man in the final, Raibu Katayama, crashed hard on the lip of a wall in his second run and was taken off the mountain, alert and waving to the crowd, NBC Sports’ Tina Dixon said.

Taylor Gold was the top American in fifth, followed by Chase Josey and White.

White, competing for the second time since his third Olympic title in 2018, landed his trademark double McTwist 1260 but did not attempt a double cork 1440 among his three runs.

White landed back-to-back 1440s for the first and only time in his career to win the 2018 Olympics.

Others did a 1440 Saturday. Ayumu Hirano was the only rider to attempt back-to-back 1440s, but he didn’t land his back half clean.

White’s coach, J.J. Thomas, said a few Japanese riders landed triple corks in preseason training, including Ayumu Hirano, but nobody tried a triple cork in Saturday’s final.

Nobody has landed the dangerous trick in any contest, and White said last month he must now learn it as he bids to contend for another medal.

Through two of four U.S. Olympic selection events, no man has the podium finish necessary for a shot at an automatic Olympic spot. White was the top American at the first qualifier in March, placing fourth.

The next qualifier is next week’s Dew Tour.

The top two U.S. men and women in the world halfpipe rankings on Dec. 22 qualify for Beijing, if they’re in the top six. No American men are currently in the top six. White was ranked 70th going into this week in large part because of his lack of competitions.

After world rankings, the riders with the best single podium result among the four Olympic selection events make the team until it reaches three men and three women. After that, more riders can be added via discretionary selection up to no more than four per gender total.

At 35, White is older than any previous male Olympic halfpipe rider.

Two-time world champion Cai Xuetong of China won the women’s final Saturday. Top Americans Chloe Kim and Maddie Mastro didn’t compete this week but are in strong position to make the Olympic team.

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