Shaun White‘s last-minute decision to enter a World Cup snowboarding contest in Switzerland means that, for the first time this season, all of the world’s male halfpipe riders are in the same event.
The Laax Open final on Saturday (11:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel and Peacock) should be an Olympic preview that defines the medal favorites for Beijing.
White, a three-time Olympic champion who has not made a podium in four events since returning from a three-year break, was the top American in qualifying and one of three to make the 12-man final.
White flew to Laax to erase any doubt about whether he should be one of up to three coaches’ picks for the Olympic team. He has performed like one of the top Americans since his return to competition, though not like an Olympic medal favorite.
Taylor Gold, 2014 Olympian, already clinched a spot on the team. Chase Josey, a 2018 Olympian, is also likely to make it. The fourth spot after White appears open and could be decided by Lucas Foster and Joshua Bowman‘s results in the final.
The team will be announced next week. White, 35, is older than any previous Olympic male halfpipe rider, according to Olympedia.org.
He will be an underdog in Saturday’s final to Japanese stars Ayumu Hirano and Yūto Totsuka.
Hirano, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, became the first man to land a triple cork in competition last month. Totsuka was the world’s top rider last season while Hirano didn’t compete as he focused on skateboarding at the Tokyo Games.
The final also includes Australian Scotty James, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist who is competing for the first time this season.
Hirano, Totsuka and James are on the invite list for next week’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. White, the face of the event for so many years, is not.
The women’s halfpipe final in Laax includes defending Olympic champion Chloe Kim, who is already qualified for Beijing, and some of her top challengers, including Chinese Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiayu.
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