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Halfpipe: Gold for White, bronze for Lago

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 17, 2010 11:33 PM

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Well, you can see why Shaun White is regarded as the Michael Jordan of snowboarding.

No one rises to the big moment better. And no one gets more air beneath him when he does.

White, just 23 but long an icon among the snowboarding crowd, proved head, shoulders, and feet above the competition tonight in the men's halfpipe final at Cypress Mountain. He scored a 46.8 in his first run, which would have been enough to win the gold medal in the event he also won in Turin in 2006.

But in his second run, he found a way to top even himself, earning a staggering 48.4 from the judges to do exactly what he was expected to do entering the Vancouver Games: dominate the competition. It was greatness personified.

As a punctuation mark on the redhead's instantly legendary performance, he nailed the dangerous and fabled Double McTwist 1260, a move that thus far only White has been able to land in competition.

"It was the savvy thing to do," White said. "Saucy. Keep it weird. My coach said at the top, 'Don't do this unless you're gonna stomp it.' "

White said there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to go for it on his second run.

"I just felt like I didn't come all the way to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns," he said. "I put down the tricks I worked so hard on."

Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen took silver. Scotty Lago, now the official pride of Seabrook, N.H., grabbed the bronze.

White's victory caps a huge day for US athletes -- high-profile ones in particular. Earlier, Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who was probably the only American athlete touted as much as White entering these Games, took gold in the women's downhill.

It marked the third multiple-medal event of the day for the United States -- speedskaters Shani Davis (gold) and Chad Hedrick (bronze) both medaled in the 1,000 meters tonight.

The six medals are the most in a single day by the US in a Winter Games, surpassing the five earned on Feb. 20, 2002 at Salt Lake City..

White becomes the fourth American male to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal, joining Dick Button (figure skating, 1948 and 1952), Seth Wescott (snowboardcross, 2006, '10), and Davis (long track speedskating, 2006, '10).

As for what's next for White . . .

"Sleep," he said. "And then take on the world."

Update, 11:12 p.m. Lago fell on his second run, locking him in the bronze position while ensuring that White will win the gold.

Lago is, of course, thrilled -- the CTV camera catches him rejoicing while asking "Where's my family?" A nice moment follows when they find him for a group hug at the edge of the mixed zone.

Update, 11:09 p.m. Seabrook, N.H. native Scotty Lago will win a medal tonight in the men's halfpipe.

Which medal remains to be seen.

Lago was bumped from second place by Finland's Peetu Piiroinen, who scored a 45.0 on his second run. But because Podladtchikov, the third-to-last competitor, fell, Lago is assured of a medal.

Update, 11:06 p.m. Louis Vito won't make the podium, scoring a 39.4 on his second run. He needed to beat a 42.4 to crack the top three.

Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland is in third place, having scored a 42.4 on his first run, 0.4 away from Lago.

Update, 10:57 p.m. Here is how the five judges scored White's first run:

9.4, 9.3, 9.3, 9.3, 9.5.

No one else even approached a 9.3. Lago received an 8.9 from one judge.

The competition is in reverse order of finish, so Lago will go 11th and White 12th in the second run.

The US has some pretty sweet uniforms, with red, white, and blue plaid tops and pants that look like XXXXXXL jeans.

Update, 10:38 p.m.: So that's what they call Big Air.

White makes it look easy in his first run of the finals -- he really looks like he gets a couple of feet higher than all of his competitors -- and his score reflects his performance:

46.8.

It's the best score of the day, topping his own 45.8 in qualifying, and it should be plenty for the gold.

Lago, whose score White beat by a staggering four points, is bumped to second, while Vito falls to fourth.

We'll see if he breaks out the Double McTwist 1260 in the second and final run.

White's moves included massive air, back to back double corks, before concluding with what appeared to be a backside 900.

Update, 10:34 Louis Vito of the US, the eighth snowboarder to take on the halfpipe, moved into third with a 39.1. Lago still holds the lead with 11 boarders having gone of the 12 in the finals.

You know who is up next . . .

Update, 10:23 EST: It's supposed to be Shaun White's night, and chances are it will be.

But New Hampshire's Scotty Lago just earned a 42.8 score in his first run of the finals of the men's halfpipe at Cypress Mountain. He has the lead after four competitors.

Upon completing his run, Lago pumped his fist and shouted as a vocal US contingent in the crowd cheered wildly.

Could the US put a pair on the podium tonight in the halfpipe, just as it did earlier in the day in the women's Alpine skiing downhill?

* * *

SEMIFINALS

Update, 9:46 EST: Scotty Lago of Seabrook, N.H. advanced to the finals in men’s snowboard halfpipe on Cypress Mountain.

He will be joined by reigning gold medalist and heavy favorite Shaun White and fellow Louie Vito, both of whom advanced directly from qualifying runs, as US entrants in the final, along with Greg Bretz, who also made it out of the semis.

Workers have tidied up the course and snowboarders are taking practice runs right now. The finals should begin in roughly a half-hour.

* * *

There was no Double McTwist 1260-- not yet, anyway -- but US snowboarding superstar Shaun White sailed to a first-place finish in the qualifying round of the men's halfpipe this afternoon at Cypress Mountain.

By winning his heat, White earned a berth in tonight's medal round, which is slated to begin at 10:15 EST.

"The qualifiers are a strange limbo," White said. "We practice for finals every single day. This was almost more nerve-wracking.

Scotty Lago of Seabrook, N.H., advanced to the semifinals, finishing sixth in the second heat. The top three from each of the two heats qualify for the finals, while the next six in each heat reach the semis, which begin at 8:15 p.m. EST.

Lago said he had hoped to skip the semifinals to save his energy for the final.

"I'm going to stick to the same run [in the semis]," Lago said. "I believe that will be enough. I'll just land it clean and big like I know how to do."

American Louie Vito also is in the finals after finishing third in White's heat (41.8). Greg Bretz, who finished fourth in the second heat, will try to qualify from the semis along with Lago.

"I think the US put together a super-strong team," Lago said. "We're all top performers. Hopefully, we'll see [me, Shaun, Greg, and Louie] in the finals."

White, of course, is already there, having earned a score of 45.8 from the judges, the best of either heat; Finland's Peetu Piironinen won the second with a 45.1. But White's run was considered conservative, at least for him, and he limited his selections from his bag of tricks. There was no sign of the Double McTwist 1260, a daring and dangerous maneuver that includes 3-1/2 twists in midair.

White started with a Backside Air, followed by a Frontside 1080 Double Cork, then a Cab 1080 Tailgrab before finishing with a Backside 900.

"[A 45.8] out of 50 isn't bad," White said.


* * *

If you like your halfpipe with a helping of comedy on the side, keep an eye out for the French team.

All three of their semifinalists -- as well as their one teammate who did not advance -- are wearing mustaches.

"Some of the guys have arguments [reasons] for it, but not me, I just like it," said France's Arthur Longo. "It's a little wink to the crowd and something to smile about."

We'll be back with some live blogging from the halfpipe finals at 10:15-ish . . .


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