Today, Feb. 11, Shaun White may become the first U.S. man to threepeat at the Winter Olympics. Men’s halfpipe qualification is scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. ET, followed by the semis at 10 a.m. ET and the finals at 12:30 p.m. ET. All will livestream on NBCOlympics.com before airing in primetime on NBC. (That’s assuming, of course, the halfpipe is ridable. Update: It’s a go. If you’re looking for results, click here.)
White has already made headlines in Sochi, dropping out of the inaugural snowboard slopestyle event to keep his focus (and health) for his run at history. Speaking to EW before he left for Russia earlier this month, NBC snowboarding play-by-play guy Todd Harris said he thought White set out January’s X Games to perfect his Olympic run — which everyone is hoping will include his first triple cork landed in competition. “Shaun has a history, obviously, the last two Olympics of showing up and just putting down a first run that no one can touch,” Harris said.
Mastering the dangerous trick hasn’t been kind to 27-year-old White — as in, it landed him in the hospital, so if the halfpipe conditions aren’t right, don’t look for it. “The thing is that there’s no good scenario if he doesn’t land it,” a member of his team said in his recent NBC special Shaun White: Russia Calling. “He’s carted off by ski patrol if he doesn’t land it.” As Harris told EW, “He knows as well as anyone that your body takes a beating when you try to do a new trick. I think it’s simple physics: It comes to a point where your body can only get so much airtime before gravity’s gonna pull you down, and unfortunately, when it pulls you down in a halfpipe, it pulls you down really hard. I think Shaun’s taken a lot of heavy hits this year. As he gets older, I think he’s realizing that his body’s not gonna be 21 for the rest of his life. Even for the great Shaun White, it gets to a point where even he has limits.”
White won’t be without competition, including from his U.S. teammates Greg Bretz, Taylor Gold, and X Games gold medalist Danny Davis, who was supposed to compete in Vancouver but got injured. “He brings so much style to snowboarding. He’s the essence of snowboarding, just a good person. He’s the first guy at the bottom of the pipe playing his guitar afterwards and hanging out. I’m just so happy to see him riding his very best. I think Danny would probably say this as well: If he puts down his best run, he’ll come away feeling great about himself — whether he wins a medal or not,” Harris said. “If he lays down his best run, he will be on the podium, but it’s just so nice to have him back in there. He’s just a cool guy to have on the U.S. team.”
Looking ahead to the women’s competition, scheduled for Feb. 12, Harris expects the matchup between Australia’s defending Olympic gold medalist Torah Bright and the U.S.’s 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark (who also earned a bronze in Vancouver) to push women’s halfpipe to a whole new level. As she proved in her winning X Games run last month, 30-year-old Clark’s peaking at the right time.