Snowboard legend Shaun White pulled off a spectacular final run of the day to grab his third Olympic halfpipe gold medal on Wednesday, claiming America’s 100th Winter Games title in the process.
The 31-year-old held his nerve at the last to score a brilliant 97.75 points and snatch the title from Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who was leading on 95.25, with Australia’s Scotty James third on 92.00.
It was particularly satisfying for White, known as “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair, who won gold in 2006 and 2010 and helped put the hipster sport on the map, but flopped in Sochi four years ago.
White said it had been an agonising wait for his score from the judges to come through, as he pipped Hirano to the title to make US history.
“Oh man, that 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,” he said.
“I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand (in October) 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.”
Japan’s Hirano had to settle for a second silver in a row and James, a two-time world champion, saw his victory hopes dashed as he fell on his final effort.
Team USA are threatening to clean up in snowboarding in South Korea, winning all four competitions so far.
The 17-year-olds Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, and fellow American Jamie Anderson, have all won in Pyeongchang, where competitors have struggled with blustery winds.
White, a comparative veteran and snowboarding’s biggest star, was in ominous form in qualifying on Tuesday as he topped the standings with 98.50.
He has been determined to show snowboarding’s next generation that he is no spent force after scoring a controversial perfect 100 in Colorado last month that sparked accusations of favouritism.
White called his winning run in the tricky conditions in South Korea “one of the most challenging I’ve ever done” because of the combinations he pulled off.
His watching family were “beside themselves”, he said.
“I’m still shaking, I don’t know what’s happening,” added White. “Man, three gold medals. My fourth Olympics. Thank you, I’m feeling blessed.”
Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the US Olympic Committee, paid tribute to America’s Winter Games champions over the years, starting with speed skater Charles Jewtraw at the inaugural edition in 1924.
“Each and every one of the 100 times we have heard our national anthem play in Olympic Winter Games competition has been a truly unique and special moment,” Blackmun said in a statement.
“These medals have spanned nearly 100 years and showcase the dedication to excellence that is central to Team USA and the entire US Olympic family.”
Shani Davis insisted he wasn’t distracted by a row over the US flag-bearer for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after he finished 19th in the 1,500m speed skating on Tuesday.
“I’ve been through a lot worse,” shrugged Davis, who had prompted a backlash when he suggested a racial motive after losing the right to carry the flag on the toss of a coin.
Davis, the most decorated US Winter Olympian with two Olympic golds and two silvers, lost out to Erin Hamlin when America’s winter sports federations couldn’t decide on the flag bearer, and tossed a coin to settle the matter.
The African-American Davis labelled the coin flip “dishonourable” in a Twitter post with the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018, triggering an angry response on social media.
“I’ve been through a lot worse than what’s been going on for the past few weeks so it didn’t disturb me whatsoever,” said Davis, 35, in his first comments on the furore.
“I’m OK, nothing distracted me. No excuses for not performing.
“I just wasn’t strong enough to compete with the top-level guys. I’m thinking and hoping that this is out of the way now and I can just concentrate on the 1,000m.”
Davis, who put his Twitter feed in “protected” mode at the weekend, blocking new followers and access to his posts, added: “After the Olympics have gone I will sit back and go through everything in my mind, but I’m just happy to be here.
“The Olympics is a beautiful thing.”
The Netherlands celebrated a one-two in the 1,500m with Kjeld Nuis storming to gold ahead of compatriot Patrick Roest.
American teenager Chloe Kim and Austrian ski ace Marcel Hirscher lit up the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Tuesday on a day of drama that included the first doping scandal of the Games.
Snowboarder Kim, 17, snatched the first of the day’s eight gold medals in the women’s halfpipe, while World Cup maestro Hirscher ended his long wait for a debut Olympic title.
But Japan’s short-track speed skater Kei Saito, 21, was at the centre of the first doping scandal in Pyeongchang after testing positive for a banned diuretic.
“I want to fight to prove my innocence because I don’t remember (taking the drug) and it’s incomprehensible,” he said in a statement.
While Kim’s brilliant run in the halfpipe stole the show, gold medals also went to Sweden and Norway in cross country skiing, and Italy in short-track speedskating.
Canada beat Switzerland to win the mixed doubles curling, while the Dutch maintained their perfect record in speedskating with a double in the men’s 1,500m.
On the slopes, Austrian star Hirscher cemented his legacy as the best skier of his generation with victory in the combined event.
Hirscher, 28, has been the outstanding skier in his slalom speciality for years, with 55 career World Cup wins.
But one prize had always eluded him — an Olympic gold medal. His previous best was a slalom silver from Sochi four years ago.
After playing down his chances ahead of the race at blustery freezing Pyeongchang, this time he nailed it.
“All the people expected me to win a gold medal, especially in Austria, my home country, where skiing is big,” he said.
“Everyone is saying, ‘Nice career, but an Olympic gold medal is still missing’. This is perfect, unbelievable.”
For Kim, her debut Olympics turned golden as she romped to snowboarding halfpipe victory. Born in the United States to Korean parents, Kim burst into tears as the enormity of her achievement sunk in.
The teenager, who has melted the hearts of home fans in Pyeongchang, justified her status as the hot favourite with an eye-popping top score of 98.25.
Pumping her fists after finishing with back-to-back 1080 spins, Kim revealed that her number one fan — her Seoul-based grandmother — had been in the crowd cheering her on.
“I actually only found out my grandma was at the bottom before my second run,” she said. “So I thought ‘this one’s for Grams!'”
Also celebrating gold was Stina Nilsson, who won the women’s cross country sprint classic for Sweden. In the men’s event, Johannes Klaebo of Norway won gold on his Olympic debut.
Italy got their first gold of the Games through Arianna Fontana in the 500m women’s short-track speed skating. South Korean multi-medal hope Choi Min-jeong finished second but was disqualified.
In speed skating, the Dutch claimed their fourth gold medal with a one-two in the men’s 1,500m through Kjeld Nuis and Patrick Roest.
Germany celebrated a one-two in the women’s luge, with Natalie Geisenberger pipping Dajana Eitberger to retain her Olympic title.
In curling, Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris danced with delight after hammering Switzerland 10-3 to take the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles title.