Shaun White had a front-row seat to what the next generation can do after he pushed the limits of snowboarding for more than a decade. In White’s farewell performance on Friday, Ayumu Hirano of Japan won an elusive Olympic gold in the halfpipe with a boundary-pushing final run of his own.
There was no doubt about the winner after Hirano's electric performance as the last rider to go. His run included an intricate and unprecedented series of flips and spins that elevated a sport obsessed with progression to new heights. Hirano's score of 96 reflected that, and the two-time Olympic silver medalist moved past Scotty James of Australia, whose top score in the three-run final was 92.50.
Jan Scherrer of Switzerland took bronze.
White finished in fourth place as he fell on the final run of a career that's seen the American star win three Olympic titles. He lifted up his goggles and waved to the crowd on his way down the halfpipe. He was in tears as the sparse crowd bid adieu to the 35-year-old and fellow riders lined up to hug him.
“It's just an emotional day for me,” White said. “I wish I would've done better but I did what I could. I'm proud."
The stage was being set for some controversy after the second run. James took over the lead with his second attempt, which scored a 92.50. Hirano followed with a did-you-see-that run that included a triple cork, the newest and one of the most difficult tricks in the halfpipe at the moment. But the judges gave him a 91.75, which drew boos from the crowd and sent social media buzzing.
“I know when I’ve seen the best run that’s ever been done in the halfpipe. ... It’s a travesty to be completely honest with you. I’m irate," NBC snowboard analyst Todd Richards said. "What’s the point of doing the triple cork, this most dangerous of dangerous tricks if you’re not getting rewarded?”
The 23-year-old Hirano went out and did an even better version of his run. This time, it was rewarded.
“Justice,” Richards said.
First-run leader Taylor Gold of the United States finished fifth.
The competition belonged to Hirano. But the moment also was a chance for White to say so long to a sport he's hovered over for so long. He said before the start of the Beijing Games this would be his final hurrah. White's resume speaks for itself: Olympic gold in ‘06 and defense of it four years later. He also won in ’18, where he put down back-to-back 1440s for the first time in his life to hold off Hirano.
This has been a difficult lead-up for White, who was slowed by a positive test for COVID-19, injuries and training issues. But he looked back at his best — under pressure, too — when he qualified for the final on his last run Wednesday.
White carried it over to the final and on his second run executed his patented Double McTwist 1260 and then a frontside 1260 at the end.
“Shaun White’s legacy kind of speaks for itself," said James, who wore his patented red boxing-glove mittens in the final (he views competitions as a boxing match). “He’s an incredible competitor and I think he’s just universally very respected as an athlete.”