Olympic Men’s Halfpipe

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White Gold: Flying Tomato Takes The Cake in Torino
Sunday, February 12, 2006

Can the Flying Tomato– the red haired action sports superstar who once camped with his family in a van at the base of Mammoth Mountain (ever heard that story before?)– pull off gold at Bardonecchia? That’s the question being pondered by snowboard commentators this Olympics. It’s not an unlikely possibility, if slightly monotonous. Following a US Men’s sweep in SLC and a really strong field of men’s and women’s halfpipe riders this year, a total domination by both US divisions is entirely conceivable.

Shaun White wants gold unarguably more than anyone else this time around. He proved it by repeatedly slaying the competition throughout the Olympic qualifying events. If anyone can challenge him, it’s Danny Kass, whose seemingly care free attitude betrays just how well he delivers when it matters. Not to be discounted in the contest are the go for broke styles of riders like Finch, Kratter, Autti and Aguirre (just ask the Yo Beat Poll). Lucky for us all, Todd Richards is holding it down in the announcer’s booth, spitting the hot truth as it comes down the pipe so we don’t miss a beat in our living rooms.

The top six of forty-four riders in the qualifiers advanced to the finals after their first runs. Kass, with his effortless, rock solid yet lackadaisical style easily qualified after throwing back to back 10s. Aguirre did the same. Even an injured Finch managed to go huge and advance after landing in the initial top four. Autti (FIN), Mattila (FIN) and Germany’s Christoph Schmidt joined the US riders in the finals after putting together solid first runs.

Rocking a stars and stripes swatch as his trademark bandana, Shaun was bumped out of the auto qualifying top 6 into 7th by a small bobble on his 9. Uncharacteristically, he was left behind by his teammates after the first run qualifications.

After putting up solid second runs, Koski (FIN), Zebrowski (FRA), Lueps (GER), Keller (SUI) and Lipscomb (CAN) advanced to the real deal. A last minute sick but conservative (only by his personal standards) series of tricks allowed White to join his teammates in the medal race with the number one qualifying score. To assure his spot, White replaced his second hit 9 with a lofty 5 in a real nail-biter of a run.

In the finals, Shaun White’s first run: lien, Mctwist, frontside 10, cab 10 nose, frontside 9, backside 9 (WTF!!!) for a score of 46.8 stood up through the competition for gold. Kass had a disappointing fall after attempting the second 10 in his first run but was able to pull out a great final run to earn his second silver medal. Third place was a highly contested slot and could have gone to Autti, Koski or Aguirre, as far as I’m concerned. Koski ended up taking it home for the Fins.

To answer the world’s questions: White is, indeed, a golden boy and US snowboarding is a dominant force to be reckoned with. After all was said and done, no one was shocked that Shaun, once again, pulled off a win– arguably his greatest– in signature, memorable style. His final lap was an emotional high, a capstone within the 19 year old’s remarkable career. White’s victory and stellar performance, along with those of Kass, Autti, Aguirre, the Fins and an injured Finch have set extraordinary standards for Vancouver.

Check back tomorrow for women’s pipe coverage.