Shaun White grabs top spot in halfpipe qualifying, advances to finals

Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White reaches for his second jump at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, during qualifications on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Kara Biernat
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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (BSU at the Games) — Snowboarder Shaun White checked off the first step in becoming a three-time Olympic gold medalist Tuesday afternoon at the men’s halfpipe qualification rounds at the Phoenix Snow Park.

Behind his signature double mctwist 1260 in his second run, the 31-year-old grabbed the top qualifying score with a nearly perfect 98.50 to leave Australia’s Scotty James and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano to second and third place finishes — but not by much.

The trio’s performance was just a preview of the intensity that the finals will hold in Wednesday’s showdown for a top spot on the podium.

Shaun White
Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White does his signature move, the Double McTwist 1260, during his second qualification run at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 13, 2018 (Ball State at the Games Photos/Ryan Sparrow)

“I started seeing everybody putting together these great runs and I figured I would kind of just step it up and it motivated me to send it on that last one,” White said.

With gold still far from a guarantee, White appreciates this year’s competition.

“I’m happy with where I’m at and proud of those guys,” White said. “Ayumu… I’ve watched him since he was 13 years old. He was in a tough position like I was as a kid where you have a lot of pressure to be the next big, great thing. They were saying to him, that he would be the next Shaun White as a kid. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot to live up to. I’m sitting here like, 'What do you mean? I’m still here'.”

Representing Japan, 19-year-old Hirano was recently the first snowboarder to complete back-to-back 1440’s in a run. After setting himself up for tomorrow earning third place, just 3.25 behind White, Hirano looks forward to the challenge.

“We are very similar,” Hirano said. “I know what he does and he knows what I do.”

With the familiarity and challenges that Hirano adds as a competitor, White looks forward to seeing him again.

“I’m excited to compete with him because he’s really been pushing it,” White said. “At X Games, he did an amazing job combination that I’ve been working on as well. I’m just impressed.”

Another big competitor of White’s comes in the form of James, who recorded a 96.75 to land just behind White. Competing in his third Olympics, the 23-year-old values the high intensity level of riding that White contributed to.

“It’s a healthy round of competition at this point in time,” James said. “I’m just grateful that I’ve got another big competition to hopefully be standing on top.”

The level of riding witnessed Tuesday forced all 29 participants to up their performance more so than the average qualifying round. White, Hirano, James and the rest of the top 12 snowboarders will return to the halfpipe with a clean slate Wednesday (Tuesday night in the U.S.), including White's fellow Americans Ben Ferguson, Chase Josey and Jake Pates.

Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White reaches for his second jump at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, during qualifications on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White reaches for his second jump at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, during qualifications on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White reaches for his second jump at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, during qualifications on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Snowboarder Ben Ferguson, United States, stumbles on a trick during the first heat of the of 2018 Winter Olympics men’s halfpipe qualification, Feb. 13, 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Ryan Sparrow)
Snowboarder Ben Ferguson, U.S.A., comes down after a trick in the second heat of the of 2018 Winter Olympics men’s halfpipe qualification, Feb. 13, 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Snowboarder Ben Ferguson preforms a trick in the second heat of the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s halfpipe qualification, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Japan’s Ayumu Hirano reaches for his board during his qualifying halfpipe run at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Feb. 13 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Australia’s Scotty James turns over during his third move in the first heat of the 2018 Winter Olympics men’s halfpipe qualification, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)
Two-time Olympic champion, halfpipe snowboarder Shaun White smiles and waves at the crowd after his second qualifying run at Phoenix Snow Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Ryan Sparrow)
The first round of men’s halfpipe snowboarding at the 2018 Winter Olympics took place Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 13, 2018, at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Ball State at the Games Photo/Grace Hollars)

All eyes are ready for a showdown between the world’s three best contenders, though. For White, he has big plans as he fights for another Olympic gold medal.

“I don’t think we’ve seen my best run yet,” White said. “I definitely have a couple things in mind that I’ve been working on that I’d like to iron out and here’s the time to basically do it and try to put it in my run.”

Kara Biernat is a Ball State University journalism student. She and 4 other BSU students will be periodically contributing Olympic stories to WTHR. The students are in PyeongChang, South Korea to cover the Olympics.

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