PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Snowboarding at the Olympics turned 20 this year, and there’s a good chance that in another two decades, people will still be talking about the contest that went down in the mountains of South Korea on Wednesday.
They will definitely still be talking about Shaun White.
It wasn’t so much that White won his third gold medal to place his name among the greatest to compete in the Olympics, or in any realm of sports, for that matter.
It was the way he did it.
His winning run capped a contest that, even before he dropped in for the finale, was the best, in terms of pure difficulty, showmanship and guts that has ever been seen on a halfpipe.
It came with the pressure of knowing he had to land the most difficult run he ever attempted, or settle for silver.
It included back-to-back jumps, each with 1440 degrees of spin, that are, quite literally, death-defying. They were tricks White said afterward that he had never landed in succession — not in practice and, of course, never in a contest.
“I knew I had it in me,” he said. “The fear was out of the door. I’m at the Olympics. I’m standing at the top, in my favorite position, with the pressure of the world and one run to go. Man, it brings out the best in me. I’m so glad that’s a part of me as a competitor.”
As White was competing, many on social media resurfaced the details from the lawsuit by a former drummer in White’s rock band, Bad Things. Lena Zawaideh said White sexually harassed her and refused to pay her wages after he fired her. The lawsuit was settled in May for an undisclosed amount.
White was asked during a news conference if the allegations might tarnish his reputation.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip and stuff,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
White later said on NBC’s Today Show he used “a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject.”
“I’m just truly sorry,” he said. “I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience.”
White also said he’s “grown as a person over the years” and is “proud of who I am today.”
On the winning trip, White got the tough stuff out of the way early, dropping straight into the halfpipe, flying nearly 20 feet above it and whipping his body around twice while going head-over-heels two times for the first 1440. He landed high enough on the wall to gather sufficient speed to travel to the other side and essentially do a mirror image of the first trick.
He knew he’d done it, but the wait — about 120 seconds — was agonizing.
“I was trying not to make eye contact with the judges,” White said.
The score came up. A 97.75. It was enough to beat Ayumu Hirano, the 5-foot-2, 19-year-old from Japan.