BONGPYEONG-MYEON, South Korea — Whoops. Let’s rethink this Shaun White underdog thing.
Last month, a snowboarding expert suggested the greatest halfpipe rider in history had lost his golden touch.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist answered Tuesday at Phoenix Snow Park by throwing down a run of 98.50 points out of 100 to earn the top qualifying spot heading into the final.
“I get my favorite spot dropping last,” White told a handful of reporters. “It’s a good luck spot: I really wanted it.”
White, 31, will face a highly spirited group of younger riders in what could be a barnburner of a final Wednesday.
Scotty James of Australia qualified second with 96.85 points, pre-Olympic favorite Ayumu Hirano of Japan was third with 95.25 points. American Ben Ferguson (91.00 points) was fourth.
“Being here and being the guy at his fourth Olympics, I never felt like an underdog since I was a little kid,” White said.
Some figured Hirano had a big advantage because White was sidelined by two injuries in the fall. A face plant during a run in New Zealand required 62 stitches, and it was not clear whether the crossover star could recover in time for the Pyeongchang Games.
Hirano is one of the few riders who can complete a “cab double cork 1440,” perhaps snowboardings’ outer limits. The Mammoth-based White, though, just keeps performing.
“I knew I had it in me,” he said of two qualifying runs in the 90s. “I watched these young guys putting these amazing runs and it fired me up I just wanted to show this is what I have been doing my entire life. I just wanted to put it down.”
New Zealand’s Rakai Tait wasn’t surprised.
“He’s been killing it,” Tait said. “He was sending it today.”