White-eyed reminder as Kim prepares for another Olympic race

Nicknames are removed. The mop of red hair that once served as Shaun White’s signature look more than a decade ago is long gone.

The torch that the now 35-year-old snowboarding icon has carried so ably for so long since his first gold-medal run in the halfpipe in Turin 16 years ago has been taken up by a series of new comers who grew up watching it.

The group – led by Japan’s two-time silver medalist Ayumu Hirano – will stand atop the Genting Snow Park pipe and seek to do what has only been done once in the last four Games: ride the podium with White and the rest of the sport looking up.

For the first time in his career, White will head to the Olympics not as a favorite but as a winter lion trying to summon the kind of magic that has been hard to come by since returning for a break from three years.

White only secured a spot on the USA team in the final days of qualifying and hasn’t been on top of the medals stand since that final under pressure with Hirano and Australia’s Scotty James in Pyeongchang, where he collapsed in his mother’s arms. Cathy after the medal presentation, physically and emotionally exhausted.

He’s back for what’s almost certainly one last run, where he’ll see a changing of the guard up close. The Japanese, led by Hirano and world champion Yuto Totsuka, dominated the halfpipe with the kind of boundary-pushing tricks that were once White’s domain.

Hirano became the first snowboarder to land a “triple cork” – three head-to-board flips – in competition in December, the next logical step in progression four years after White won gold drilling double cork 1440s. consecutive (four twists). It’s a milestone that Hirano achieved largely thanks to the push of Totsuka and his younger brother Kaishu.

“(The Japanese) have a great team culture,” said Mike Jankowski, head coach of the US Olympic snowboarding and freestyle skiing programs. “You see them all day. They’re having fun. They’re laughing. I mean obviously they’re fierce competitors and they’re out to win. But they’re also the camaraderie that I see with them, it’s funny .”

The increasingly high risk-reward nature of the sport adds a layer of uncertainty that was missing from the sport’s flagship event.

At least on the men’s side. Things are a bit clearer on the women’s halfpipe, where American Chloe Kim will be looking to end the gold medal she won as a fresh-faced teenager in Korea four years ago. .

Although Kim understands the pressure she will face in China as the only one competing with an Olympic gold medal on home soil, she is barely out of her comfort zone. She came to Korea as the sport’s Next Big Thing and left as a champion while navigating the white-hot spotlight thanks to her precocity and Korean heritage.

In comparison, doing it again doesn’t seem so bad. If anything, she came to embrace the stakes. This was seen at a pre-Olympic event in December when she drilled the last of her three-pointers to edge past Spain’s Queralt Castellet.

“It was weird because that third run was the quietest I’ve felt,” Kim said. “It was really an all-or-nothing feeling. I think in those moments you get this serene feeling where it’s like you’re going broke, you know?”

Or in Kim’s case, going for the gold.

Other things to look for during three very busy weeks in Zhangjiakou.

LINDSEY’S LONG RUN: American snowboardcross star Lindsey Jacobellis will make one last effort to fill the one hole in her resume when the five-time world champion goes for another Olympic gold medal.

Jacobellis settled for silver in Turin in 2006 when she fell after catching her board in celebration as she soared over the final jump and failed to medal in Vancouver, Sochi or Pyeongchang. The 36-year-old made peace a long time ago with her late mistake in Italy and arrives with some momentum after claiming third place at a World Cup in Russia.

JAMIE’S JOURNEY: Three-time Olympic medalist Jamie Anderson will look to extend her reign at the top of women’s slopestyle when she battles for a third gold medal to join those she won in Russia and Korea.

Anderson, 31, who landed a double cork 1080 cab for the first time in competition at Mammoth Mountain in January, thinks she hasn’t peaked yet.

“I don’t feel like I’ve reached my full potential yet,” she said.

RED ALERT: Red Gerard didn’t expect to win slopestyle gold in Korea as he looked wide-eyed as a 17-year-old at his first Olympics. It happened anyway.

Four years later, Gerard will travel to China as one of the favorites along with Canadians Seb Toussaint and Mark McMorris, among others. Now 21, Gerard hopes his sport will move away from the twists and turns that have come to define it towards something more creative.

SECOND HELP? : Ester Ledecka achieved the biggest feat of the 2018 Olympics when the snowboarder from the Czech Republic beat a stacked field that included American star Lindsey Vonn in the super-G alpine race.

Ledecka celebrated with Kentucky Fried Chicken then went out and won the parallel giant slalom on her snowboard days later, becoming the third person to win gold in different sports at the same Winter Games.

She’s a heavy favorite to repeat in PGS and won’t come out of nowhere this time in super-G like she did in Korea. The 26-year-old finished 10th in the World Cup standings in 2020 and 2021.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.


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