Shaun White’s Bumpy Ride Back to the Top

Shaun White’s Bumpy Ride Back to the Top

In White’s world, there is no other excuse for not winning — not a slushy halfpipe or just an off night. His loss (and that’s what he called it, not a fourth-place finish, and it’s probably what he would have called a silver medal, too) was part of what motivated him to try again.

The segment from there in Sochi to here in Pyeongchang, from age 27 to age 31, was both the hardest and the most rewarding. He rebooted by shedding many of the people around him.

“I got a new PR person, a new manager, a new agency, a physical therapist,” White said. “I started working out for the first time in my life, I’ll admit.”

The time was not without controversy. White was accused by a former bandmate of making sexual remarks to her and making her watch “sexually disturbing videos,” and reached an undisclosed settlement with her last May.

White declined to discuss the case during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, hours after his gold medal victory.

“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” he said. “I feel like I’ve addressed it.”


White after winning the gold medal at the Turin Games in 2006.

Vincent Laforet for The New York Times

In October, White crashed during practice in New Zealand and smashed his face. His blood stained the pipe, and Thomas would not look at him. White said he did not recognize himself in the mirror. He needed 62 stitches on his face, lips and tongue.

“I completely separated my face,” White said on Wednesday. There were slight scars on his forehead and his nose.

The accident made him reconsider his Olympic ambitions. His family reminded him that he had nothing more to prove. He had gold medals and plenty of money.

“I’m thinking what does this mean?” White said. “We were on such a great path, and it was that true question of, like: Do I really want this? Stepping out on the snow again means that I’m willing to let this happen to myself again. And that’s a big decision.”

He came back. Few were sure how good he could be, given his age, injury and relatively few competitions. Then he won an event to qualify for the team (winning with a 100-point score). He won the qualifiers on Tuesday in what might now be the second-best halfpipe contest in history, behind the one the next day.

White thought he might have won it in the first of three rounds, when judges awarded him 94.25 points. He watched Hirano, the silver medalist in Sochi and long considered an heir apparent to White, take the lead in the second round with a run that included back-to-back 1440s.

White knew he had to do it, too, even though he never had, he said.

“You could come up on any other day, when all these people aren’t here, and ask me to do that, and I’d be terrified,” he said, a rare admission of fear. “Because there’s no motivation. But when you’ve got the Olympics, and you’ve got the dye on the pipe and the world watching, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to do the trick. I just had to land it.”

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