U.S. half-piper Lucas Foster couldn’t even entertain the idea when a reporter asked him about the possibility that the most famous man in snowboarding wouldn’t make an Olympic final.
This was Shaun White after all.
Foster’s confidence was rewarded when White delivered a classic clutch second run to send him through to the final of the men’s snowboard halfpipe at Genting Snow Park. After he fell on his signature Double McTwist in the first attempt, White attacked his second run for a score of 86.25 that qualified fourth. No scores carry over to the final.
The 35-year-old was the top American in Wednesday’s qualifiers, leading the way for Taylor Gold, who qualified eighth and Chase Josey, who snuck into the 12-man final in the last position on the last run of the day. Foster, a first-time Olympian, finished 17th.
Two-time Olympic silver medalist Ayumu Hirano qualified in first and is in position to earn his first Olympic gold. The Japanese star could unleash a triple cork during Friday’s finals after he became the first man to land one in a halfpipe during competition last year.
Australian Scotty James qualified second, followed by Japan’s Ruka Hirano.
White was in a precarious position needing to hit his second run to make the final. He dropped to 23rd out of 25 riders with many of the top competitors having already completed their runs. His teammates never had a doubt.
“He’s the most clutch guy ever,” said Gold, who finished 14th in the Sochi Olympics, but suffered a broken kneecap in 2016 that derailed his career for four years.
White’s three runs in Friday’s final will be the last rides of his illustrious career. The five-time Olympian and three-time halfpipe gold medalist announced before the competition that the 2022 Olympics would be his final contest.
As he slid on his back to the bottom of the halfpipe after falling, the reality that any small slip-up – a piece of lint or a misplaced snow chunk – could mean the end of his competitive career. He thought about his family and friends watching from home. He considered the agony of answering questions about the sudden end to his career while trying to express how grateful he was for all of it.
“Now I feel the relief, I get to have my moment for the big final,” White said.
Instead of ending his career Wednesday, White spent a full hour moseying through the media area. He joked with reporters, stopped for every TV interview and marveled at the number of phones and records stacked up on a tray next to him. He talked about the opportunity to let loose in the final.
Shaun White is not done yet.