Shaun White has cemented his legacy as the most successful American snowboarder of all time after winning his third Olympic gold medal – and it has already got him thinking about going for gold as a skateboarder in the 2020 Summer Games in Japan.
The 31-year-old broke down in tears and cried ‘oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’ after taking the win in a spectacular halfpipe final at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang on Wednesday.
The Flying Tomato threw his board in the air when his winning score flashed, setting off a delirious celebration.
He ran from the arena and cried openly as he hugged his parents, girlfriend Sarah and sister Kari.
Such was the raw emotion of the moment that he refused to let go of his father despite pleas from officials for him to attend the winner’s podium.
‘Man… three gold medals. My fourth Olympics. Thank you, I’m feeling blessed,’ he said after claiming victory.
White scored 97.75 on his final run to pip Japan’s Ayumu Hirano to the gold, while Australian Scotty James took bronze.
He trailed Hirano going into the last of the three runs in the 12-man final, but put together a daring set that included consecutive 1440-degree spins.
White said waiting for the score of his final run was ‘was awful and amazing at the same time.’
‘I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me.
‘I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand where I busted my face open.
‘I actually did the same trick that injured me here in the halfpipe today. So there were a lot of obstacles to overcome and now it’s all worth it.
‘Honestly, it’s one of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done. I didn’t even link the combination, the 14 to 14 (back-to-back 1440s) until I got here, today. So, honestly, I’m just so happy with my performance. I’m proud of the other riders for pushing me this whole time.’
The US has won all three snowboarding gold medal awarded at the Games so far.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show on Wednesday, White was asked about his future plans.
He hinted that he would want to try to make the US skateboarding team for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
‘I’m thinking how incredible [it would be] if I could go,’ an emotional White said.
‘It would be a dream come true to compete in skateboarding in Tokyo and then make a really big decision if I want to continue on and go to the China Games, so I’ve got big plans. We’ll see.’
White said that he was experiencing a roller coaster of emotions during his winning run.
‘Gosh, you know that wait from landing my run to getting my score felt like a lifetime and I’m just sitting there like “Please, [let this] be my moment”,’ he said.
‘I gave it my all, I put down that run. [It was an] incredibly great feeling.’
White said that when the result showed, ‘I was just crippled with overwhelming joy and happiness and the fact that.
‘It’s such a long journey to get to this point [after the disappointment in] Sochi.
‘I try to brush it off like it didn’t bother me but it was devastating and I had to find the love for the sport again.’
White said he needed to overcome a great deal of adversity to get to this point.
‘I dug deep [through] ups and downs and this awful injury [that I suffered in] New Zealand tested my strength of how badly I wanted this win. To show up today and deliver that run – my heart was truly in it.
‘It hit hard. I was just beside myself. I’d been sleeping every single night, running this vision [in my head] of winning this Olympics…and we did it.’
Initially, White said he wasn’t convinced he was going to win.
‘Honestly, on the chairlift up [the mountain], [I thought to myself] “I don’ think I got it” and then I dug deep and I’m like “I got this”.
‘It’s an internal battle with these feelings and you gotta overcome them and I’m standing at the top and not only did I have to do a run that I’ve never done before on the snowboard, but I had to do it bigger and better.
‘I just remember standing at the top high-fiving, my team. My eyes don’t blink [because] I’m laser focused.
‘I just dug deep and realized this is my life. This is what I do and I’m gonna have some fun with it.
‘I sent that run and it really worked out for me.’
White’s father told DailyMail.com: ‘I am in tears. This means so much to him. He was incredible. So brave. He deserves this gold. He’s worked so hard.’
‘I hugged him and told him ‘I love you’ and he said ‘I love you too’.
‘All he could say was: ‘Oh my God’ – it was almost like he is not believing it.’
He is the first American male to win gold at three separate Winter Olympics – he also won in 2006 and 2010.
His victory also gave the United States its 100th gold medal in Winter Olympics history.
White failed to reach the podium four years ago in Sochi, a loss that led him to do more than a fair amount of soul-searching in the aftermath.
He had described his downfall in Sochi and the misery that followed him as: ‘People ask, ‘When are you going to get over it?’ You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it. It’s kind of like you have a scar from falling off a bike, it’s just with you forever. But you learn from it.’
Last fall he underwent emergency surgery on his nose and upper lip in New Zealand after smashing into the deck of the halfpipe during training and arrived in South Korea with stitches in his mouth that still hadn’t fully dissolved.
The misery of Sochi almost threatened to engulf him again on Wednesday as he toppled over in the snow and saw his Japanese opponent head the leaderboard.
But with his final, brave and superb run – and to the joy of hundreds of Americans screaming his name – he came good and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Many who saw his tears were witnessing a sporting great roaring back to life.
It wasn’t about adding to the $40 million he has banked or the fame and celebrity that follows him. It was plaintively and simply about representing his country and achieving a place in the record books as a true champion.
His sister Kari told DailyMail.com: ‘It has been hard for him these last four years. But he was surprised that people were saying he was going to retire.
‘He was like ‘But I’m 30 years old… what are they saying?’.’
His father Roger said his son had lived through the pressure of being the Olympic champion and ‘had a really hard time when he was younger’.
‘Being at the top was hard for him, everybody wants to be number one. It has been a roller coaster for him.’
He said the triple Olympic gold medalist had not talked about retirement and was thinking of taking up skateboarding for the Tokyo games over the next two years.
‘He always is there to win,’ he said.
The triple Olympic champion has had to overcome adversity from the day he was born.
He was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition that causes oxygenated and unoxygenated blood to mix. The condition meant he had to have two major surgeries before his first birthday.
He has suffered numerous injuries during his career including a bruised hip and liver after a crash in New Zealand in September last year.
A month later he went to the hospital with facial injuries after a training accident and required 62 stitches and suffered bruised lungs.
In his 20 years of competition, he has also had surgery on his left ankle twice, on his wrist, his knee twice and was once off the snowboard for six months to heal his injuries.
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