Shaun White goes for gold in his last Olympic event.
Turin, Vancouver, Sochi, Pyeongchang: Those are the places that Shaun White has roamed over 16 years as one of the leading Olympians of this era. Each time, he has stolen the show. Three times, he has carried away the gold.
On Friday, on a nondescript mountainside more than 100 miles northwest of Beijing, White, now 35, was making his final three drops into an Olympic halfpipe. Whether he has one more magical run in him is the reason so many were tuning in.
White’s solid but unspectacular opening run scored 72, putting him fourth of nine competitors. He got within reach of a possible medal on his second run, scoring an 85 that moved him to second place.
White is no longer a favorite, but he cannot be dismissed. It is possible that the high-flipping Japanese team will sweep the podium, with Ayumu Hirano leading the way for two other Hiranos — Kaishu (Ayumu’s little brother) and Ruka (no relation).
Or it could be time for James, the lanky Australian, to turn halfpipe dominance into Olympic gold. Or maybe it will be Taylor Gold, the American veteran getting renewed attention for his old-school style.
Some combination of those names are likely to spill off the podium. The biggest question is whether White can crowd his way into that pack.
The competition promises to be high-flying. There might be triple corks, this Olympic cycle’s next-level trick, only useful if someone can land all the other pieces of a run. White showed in qualifications that he has what it takes to be in the top five, and he and the others did not show all their best moves.
They will show them this time — for White, the last time.