Shaun White, the snowboarding legend, looked to be in top form, scoring the best run of qualifying in the halfpipe event Tuesday.
White, 31, scored a 93.25 on his first qualifying run, best of the field, virtually clinching qualification for the final.
“Oddly enough, I was a little nervous,” White said. “There’s such a build-up to get to the Olympics. People forget you have to qualify. I still had to put that run down. So that took the pressure and the edge off.”
White’s run included a frontside double cork 1080 and a double mctwist 1260.
But two other boarders from a younger generation surpassed him in their second runs. Ayumu Hirano of Japan, 19, who many consider the most dangerous opponent for White, had a best score of 95.25. Hirano is noted for being the first man to land back-to-back 1440s. Then Scotty James of Australia, 23, the two-time world champion who has said the judges unduly favor White, put up a 96.75.
While White was already safely in Wednesday’s final, he did not play it safe on his second run, topping both Harano and James with a near-perfect 98.50. He got three 99s and three 98s from the six judges.
The run included a frost side 1080 double cork, a double mctwist 1260 and a frontside double cork 1260.
“I started seeing everybody putting together these great runs and I figured I would just kind of step it up and it motivated me to send it on that last one,” White said.
The top 12 boarders made the final. They included Americans Ben Ferguson, Chase Josey and Jake Pates. The scores will reset to zero for the final, which has the potential to be a pulsating battle between White and the young pretenders James and Hirano.
“Honestly, Ayumu, I’ve watched him since he was 13 years old,” White said. “He was in a tough position like I was as a kid where you have a lot of pressure to be the next big, great thing in the sport. They were saying that to him — that he would be the next Shaun White — as a small kid. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot to live up to. I’m sitting there like what do you mean? I’m still here.”
The United States has won 14 medals in men’s snowboard, most of any country.
White became the face — and hair — of snowboarding as the sport first established itself. His long red locks earned him the nickname the Flying Tomato. He is now sporting a neatly trimmed look.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.