PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Shaun White claimed his third gold medal Wednesday in the men’s snowboard halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
He’s an icon in his sport and one of the most recognizable and talked about figures at the Winter Olympics, but Shaun White has a score to settle at the Games.
The US snowboarder, 31, is chasing Olympic redemption and a chance to soothe the gnawing disappointment of four years ago.
He’s begun on the right track, too, leading the his favorite halfpipe event after two qualifying runs with a best score of 98.5 out of 100 in Pyeongchang.
White has been in front most of his life. He went to Sochi looking for a “three-peat” — a third straight Olympic halfpipe gold medal to take his stock stratospheric.
He also took on the new slopestyle event to keep his flame burning for the sport, but expectation and injury struck.
He injured his wrist in a fall in slopestyle and fell on his final run in the halfpipe, finishing fourth. The legend was intact, but White was bruised and burned out.
“At the time I was burning out. It’s hard to admit,” White told reporters in South Korea. “At the time my heart wasn’t in it.
“It’s like if you’ve ever been in a relationship and someone is like, they love you. I wish I could flip a switch and love you back … love snowboarding like I did when I was seven.”
White took some time out to pursue business interests and tour with his rock band “Bad Things.”
Just when he thought he was dealing with it, gas station attendants or supermarket workers would bring it up back home in California and the internal gremlins would begin again.
He needed to scratch that Olympics itch.
However, his preparations for the Games received a bloody nose — literally — when he smashed into the lip of the halfpipe while training in New Zealand in October and needed 62 stitches to his head and face.
Crashes go with the territory in the world of halfpipe snowboarding when athletes fly high above the 22ft walls of pipe and perform a series of tricks, twists and upside down turns, with names like double cork 1440 or switch double-cork 1260.
White knows the rules of the game, and knew he had to get back in the saddle.
In January he did just that and the man they used to call the”Flying Tomato ” because of his shock of red hair earned a perfect score of 100 in the US Grand Prix in Snowmass, Colorado to secure Olympic qualification.
If White is a veteran in snowboarding terms he’s likely to face stiff competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics — the young guns are smoking.
Japan’s Ayumu Hiran, 19, won the X Games at the end of January (which White skipped) with the first ever back-to-back double cork 1440s in competition. It earned him a score of 99 — only missing out on the 100 because there was once rider yet to come.
White, though, insists he has more up his sleeve for PyeongChang.
“I would love to feel like an underdog but I just don’t,” White told a press conference at the US Grand Prix.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve been expected to do well not only from the media and fans but even more so from myself. So I’m going in to hopefully do my best.”
White’s best may be good enough, but he admits the pursuit of glory takes its toll.
“You get to these goals in life and it’s not always what it seems. There’s two sides of the coin in everything,” he told reporters.
“You can be the Olympic champion but you sacrifice things along the way.
“Sitting here today I am a happier person and more comfortable with who I am and what I’ve accomplished and what I intend to accomplish than ever before.”
The men’s halfpipe qualification begins Tuesday with the final Wednesday.