Reuters - Thu, 18 Feb 05:52:00 2010
American Shaun White was in a class of his own in defending his Olympic snowboarding halfpipe title, drawing gasps of astonishment with a gravity-defying new trick when he knew he already had gold in the bag.
White, roared on by an ecstatic crowd hailing him as 'Shauntastic', had already recorded the highest score of the final on his first run, as he soared several storeys above the halfpipe and launched a sequence of high-flying twisting flip moves.
Even though he did not need to improve his score, White took to the halfpipe one last time and proved he deserved his new nickname 'Animal'.
On his final, victory descent White finished with his newly perfected Double McTwist 1260, a double backward flip with 2-1/2 revolutions ending in a blind landing, to earn the best score of the day of 48.4 points.
Signs held by fans in the crowd called him "Shauntastic" as White proved all the hype leading up to the Olympics was real, and that his personal halfpipe in the mountains of Colorado had helped him soar head and shoulders above his rivals.
White appeared to know he had won the gold medal even after his first run, ripping off his helmet, thrusting his board in the air and screaming before running over to hug members of the US team's coaching staff.
"I just felt like I didn't come all the way to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns," the loquacious American said when asked why he decided to go for the new trick when he had already won.
"I put down the tricks I've worked so hard on," said White, who was pushed to perfect his newest move after losing out in a competition to compatriot Danny Davis.
Unlike the rest of the team, White had access to his own halfpipe - a perk given to him by one of his sponsors which drew some grumbles from other American riders who were more accustomed to the friendly group atmosphere of training together.
Finn Peetu Piiroinen won the silver medal, 3.4 points behind White and Scott Lago of the United States took the bronze.
"It's impossible to beat Shaun these days unless he fails. He's way better than the other riders," said Piiroinen, who came the closest of anyone to the high-flying American with his own triple twisting flips. "I'm stoked with the silver today."
Britain's Ben Kilner collected 32.1 points in his second run in qualifying good enough to book his place in the semi-finals and achieve his pre-Games objectives.
With the pressure off in the semis, Kilner, who captured his first ever World Cup medal by taking bronze in Calgary just weeks before arriving in Vancouver, cut loose but falls in both runs ensured he ended up 12th.
And while Kilner is adamant he did himself justice at Cypress Mountain, the Scot confessed he would have another bite at the cherry.
"I am pretty bummed but I came out to Vancouver aiming to qualify for the semi-final and I was really happy to do so," said Kilner.
"I would have loved to have landed another couple of runs and reached the final but unfortunately I fell twice."
Factbox on White:
Place of birth: San Diego, United States
Residence: Carlsbad, California, United States
Previous Olympic results:
Gold medallist, 2006 Olympic Winter Games, halfpipe
Dubbed The Flying Tomato, White has revolutionsed the sport by unveiling more dangerous and technically challenging moves.
He started snowboarding at age six and turned professional at 13. After narrowly missing out on qualification for the 2002 Winter Games the bandana-clad teenager took gold in Turin in 2006.
White decided to sit-out the 2009 season in order to concentrate on the Vancouver Gamesa decision which paid off after winning another impressive gold.
His success, which also includes the video game Shaun White Snowboarding, has earned him fame and fortune.
He has his own DVD The White Album, which follows his skateboarding and snowboarding adventures and has appeared in the film First Descent.
White had heart surgery twice before the age of five after being born with a heart defect. In 2004 he returned too soon from knee surgery and suffered a severely bruised bone, forcing him into six months of rehabilitation.
In March 2009 he had to miss the rest of the season after chipping a bone in his ankle.
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