KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia
The reign was over before Shaun White raised a hopeful finger signaling he was No. 1 as he crossed the finish line of the halfpipe.
The judges weren’t going to give him this one, and even he seemed to recognize that. Too many mistakes, and a gnarly trick pulled off to perfection by a rider known as I-Pod took care of that.
It was all set up for him, all there for the taking. One final run for the gold everyone expected him to win, and White could earn a place in the record book as the first U.S. man to win three straight gold medals at a Winter Games.
It would have been great for the brand, maybe even win him a few more sponsors and Twitter followers. It certainly would have cemented his status as the greatest Olympic snowboarder ever, though the two earlier gold medals probably already took care of that.
But it was too much. And White realized it too late.
Chalk this epic loss up to sheer greed. White wanted it all, and ended up with nothing.
He was going to add two gold medals to his Olympic treasure chest in this grand Russian adventure. Do something no other snowboarder would even dream of doing by winning the slopestyle and the halfpipe, too.
Now he’s going home empty handed, a loser for the first time on the biggest stage in sports.
That is such a shocker that even White and his fellow boarders would have to think long and hard to come up with a name for it.
“It’s weird,” said Iouri Podladtchikov, the Russian-born winner who competes for Switzerland but sounds very much like he is from California. “This time, he was there and didn’t win. I think I’ve never been at a competition where he didn’t really win.”
There wasn’t any indication this wouldn’t be White’s night on the halfpipe at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. He qualified in his usual No. 1 position, then watched as his fellow boarders put up first-run scores in the final that didn’t seem terribly difficult to beat.
But he slipped on his backside in his first attempt at the Yolo trick that he had borrowed from Podladtchikov and then perfected. Then his board got caught on the lip of the pipe, sending him sprawling awkwardly.
The great thing about the halfpipe, though, is you get a second chance. And White got his as the last man on the course, only now he had to beat the 94.75 point mark set by Podladtchikov to win the gold once again.
A difficult score to beat, sure. But he’s Shaun White, and most watching expected him to hit the Yolo and steal the gold from I-Pod. On a halfpipe that he had issues with in training, he couldn’t hit the big moves he needed to win.
“I definitely had one of those nights. It’s a bummer,” he said. “I had a game plan. I had a specific run I wanted to land, and I didn’t get to put that down. That’s one of the most frustrating things for me.”
White had come to these Olympics with an audacious plan of competing in both the new slopestyle event and the halfpipe where he dominates. But he hurt his wrist in a slopestyle training run last week and pulled out days before the event, unwilling to risk further injury that might knock him out of the halfpipe. Some criticized the move, pointing out that by pulling out at the games, he had cost another American a shot at the Olympics.
White won’t acknowledge that he was biting off more than he could chew. But had he paid more attention to the halfpipe without the slopestyle to sidetrack him, he might be going home with a medal.
“Me pulling out of slopestyle, that was a strategic move in a way,” White said. “Definitely the slopestyle course had some issues and I felt my best bet was to focus on halfpipe.”
The bigger issue, he claimed, was that the halfpipe was still rough around the edges and he woke up Tuesday morning not sure if he was going to be able to land one of his runs because of it.
“Everyone was in the same boat,” he said. “We’re all in an even playing field. Those guys had a great night. I give them props for navigating the halfpipe.”
White should get props, too. For winning two golds, and for making himself a superstar and his sport something people now talk about.
But in taking a gamble in Russia, he let another golden opportunity slip away.
Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/timdahlberg.