Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET
Shaun White pulled off a gold-medal comeback in the halfpipe, and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano won silver on the strength of a phenomenal second run.
CORRECTION: An early version of this story reported that White had won silver — that was reported after the second run had completed. On his third run, White won gold.
White missed out on a medal back in 2014, when he was hurt at the Sochi Games. He’s now the only snowboarder ever to win three gold medals at the Olympics. And he did it by winning the 100th gold medal for the U.S. Winter Olympic team.
Held one day after American Chloe Kim dominated the women’s halfpipe, the men’s final was a contest between White, Hirano, and Australia’s Scotty James — who came out strong on his first run, scoring a 92.
On his first run, White stepped up with an incredible array of tricks, height and precision, soaring above the halfpipe and landing cleanly. The judges rewarded him with a 94.25 — and that was nearly his best score of the day, after a stumble marred his second run.
White began celebrating immediately, ripping his helmet off and throwing it, his arms raised above his head. But he would need another strong run to claim gold.
He managed that in the third run, landing a score of 97.75 points.
Hirano, who’s just 19, turned in a fantastic second run for his best score of 95.25, getting 18 feet above the rim of the halfpipe and landing his tricks cleanly — including back-to-back tricks with 1440-degree spins.
“I’m standing there at the top and I watch Ayumu beat my previous run score and I was pretty frustrated,” White said after the event. “I was hoping that first run was going to skate through, maybe get a victory lap. It was one of the biggest 1440s I’ve ever done in my life, career, on that first hit. But he put down an amazing run, so the pressure was on.”
White added that the back-to-back combination of 1440-degree tricks that he executed in his final run on Wednesday was the first time he’d done that.
“I just dug deep and got it done,” he said at a post-victory news conference.
At that session with journalists, White was also asked about a lawsuit he settled last year. It had been brought against him by Lena Zawaideh, who played drums in White’s rock band. Zawaideh accused White, as her employer, of sexual harassment, and of not paying her money she was owed for being in his band.
White was asked if the allegations might taint his legacy.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” White said. “But I don’t think so. I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am, and my friends love me and vouch for me. And I think that stands on its own.”
Wednesday’s finals competition came after White set a high bar in qualifying, with a best score of 98.5. It turned out he needed that score to go into the finals on top – he beat James by less than two points.
That gave White the advantage of dropping in last, knowing what he had to do to match his rivals. In the end, he pulled off a gold-medal performance to complete his comeback from the Sochi Games.
Hirano had placed third in qualifying. With his second run, he staked a claim to the podium. It was an impressive comeback for Hirano, who had fallen on his first run and earned only 35.25 points — leaving him in 10th place.
After the Japanese snowboarder’s rousing run, the pressure shifted to James and White. James seemed to take a very deep breath before he set off on his second run. The first section was great — but he couldn’t get a clean landing on one of his final tricks. White came out with energy and speed — but he fell midway through, and mustered only 55 points.
The situation reversed in the third and final run, when White earned a 97.75 and both of his top rivals fell during their attempts.
A scary moment came early in the second run, when Japanese snowboarder Yuto Totsuka fell badly. For several minutes, the crowd looked on as a medical crew attended to him. Totsuka was taken from the course on a stretcher sled and taken to the medical center.
This is the second Olympic medal for Hirano; he won silver in Sochi. He is also the reigning X Games champion in the halfpipe, having won that title last month, in a competition that White skipped.
White led a group of four American snowboarders who qualified for the finals of the men’s halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang; joining him were Ben Ferguson, Chase Josey, and Jake Pates.
Ferguson cleaned up his second run after a fall in the first. And after a strong final run earned him a 90.75, he finished 4th; Josey was 6th and Pates was 8th.
Josey was in third place after the first run, when he earned an 87.75. He fell toward the end of his second run. On that same run, Japan’s Raibu Katayama, cut his run short after landing awkwardly. Katayama had been flying: he soared more than 17 feet above the halfpipe’s rim on one trick.
Pates put down a strong second run, rebounding from a fall in his first attempt. He anxiously awaited the scoring, eyes glued on the board that would tell him if he had earned a shot at the podium. Pates got an 82.25 — not enough for a medal, but a result that made him smile, all the same.
Correction: February 13, 2018 12:00 am — An early version of this story reported that White had won silver — that was after the second run had completed. On the third run, White won gold.