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Shaun White has cleared the first step on the path to a third Olympic gold medal.
White, who won halfpipe gold in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics but finished a disappointing fourth at the 2014 Sochi Games, waited four years to unleash a head-turning run on the stage he was given at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
His score of 98.50 paced the field during the snowboarding halfpipe qualifying runs that aired live Monday night in the United States.
The American was joined by Australia’s Scotty James (96.75) and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano (95.25) in the top three, as the medal contenders dazzled and set the stage for what promises to be a memorable final.
While White was the headliner, 29 snowboarders partook in the two qualifying runs. The competitor’s best individual score is the one used rather than an average of the two runs, giving some leeway room for the top riders should there be a mistake.
The top 12 qualified, and here is a look at the final standings among those who advanced, per Olympic.org:
1. Shaun White, United States, 98.50 points
2. Scotty James, Australia, 96.75 points
3. Ayumu Hirano, Japan, 95.25 points
4. Ben Ferguson, United States, 91.00 points
5. Raibu Katayama, Japan, 90.75 points
6. Jan Scherrer, Switzerland, 84.00 points
7. Chase Josey, United States, 83.75 points
8. Jake Pates, United States, 82.25 points
10. Yuto Totsuka, Japan, 80.00 points
11. Peetu Piiroinen, Finland, 77.50 points
12. Kent Callister, Australia, 77.00 points
With the top 12 advancing, it would have been easy for White to hold back and save some energy for the later runs. Instead, he chose to send a statement to the rest of the field with a massive run right out of the gates.
He included his signature Double McTwist 1260 move in his first run, propelling him to a 93.25 and ahead of the rest of the field. However, James and Hirano each topped him with their second runs before White turned in an “anything you can do I can do better” showing to reclaim his spot atop the qualifying leaderboard.
NBC Olympics @NBCOlympics
SHAUN WHITE IS ON A MISSION. #BestOfUS #WinterOlympics https://t.co/E1XuTKthTN https://t.co/Lp6pO9048O
The showing continued the United States’ early dominance in snowboarding in Pyeongchang, as Jamie Anderson (women’s slopestyle), Red Gerard (men’s slopestyle) and Chloe Kim (women’s halfpipe) already won gold in their respective events.
Perhaps the worst news for the rest of the field is the fact White was apparently more nervous in qualifying than he will be with medals hanging in the balance:
NBC Olympics @NBCOlympics
.@shaunwhite was “more nervous” about that first run than he thinks he’ll be for the final. 😲 #WinterOlympics #BestOfUS https://t.co/m4p5hBP8Uf
Hirano figured to be among White’s more formidable threats even before his showing in qualifying, considering he won the silver medal at the 2014 Games. His first run of 87.50 was smooth and seemingly effortless, suggesting there were better things to come.
Better things came in the second run, but he will have to improve once again when the stakes are elevated after White’s performance.
James demonstrated he also has the talent to challenge for gold in his second run, while American Ben Ferguson captured massive air in his first run on his way to fourth place with a 91.00.
None of these competitors have to worry about 2014 Olympic gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland. Smith noted Podladtchikov broke his nose during a crash at the X Games and pulled out of the 2018 Games.
That means there will be a new gold medalist, although if White builds on his qualifying performance, the top of the podium will take on a familiar feel.
According to NBC Olympics, the final is set for Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET as White looks to capture gold once again.