Winter Olympics: Men’s Halfpipe Preview

Men's Halfpipe Snowboard event at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

If there is one event that just keeps getting bigger, better and more dangerous, Men’s Halfpipe has got to be it. Shaun White, the defending Olympic champion, is back for another gold. But don’t even think of calling him The Flying Tomato. That’s so 2006. Now you can call him “The Animal.”

“Lately I resemble the drummer from the Muppets so ‘The Animal’ has become my thing here,” he said.

Whatever you call him, he’s the heavy favorite and is coming into the competition with a big bag of new tricks.And with two other strong Americans in the field—Scotty Lago of Seabrook, N.H., and Louie Vito of Sandy, Utah—there’s even talk of a Team USA sweep.

White qualified for the finals earlier today, placing first in the first heat with a score of 45.8. Vito, who many fans will know from his turn on “Dancing With the Stars,” finished third, also moving straight to the finals with a score of 41.8.

Gregory Bretz and Scotty Lago placed fourth and sixth respectively in the second heat to move onto the semifinals.

White withheld his signature new trick, the Double McTwist 1260, and will likely unleash it in the finals. He’s debuted a number of new stunners in the last season, like the Back-to-Back 1080 Double Cork—a mind-boggling combination of 360-degree spins and double flips.

How does he come up with these bigger and bolder moves? He practices in a halfpipe near Silverton, Colo. that was specially built for him by Red Bull; it features the world’s first on-mountain soft foam landing pit, which allowed him to dream up new tricks never before thought possible.

“I have to get inspired and get motivated and I really have to have a game plan,” White said about pioneering new moves. “And it really came together for me this season with the Double McTwist 1260 and the other Double Corks, and I am really feeling great about them.”

Other riders have followed suit and started incorporating Double Corks into their repertoire, but the move is incredibly dangerous. In December, American hopeful Kevin Pearce crashed while attempting the trick and ended up in a coma. He has regained consciousness but is still in recovery.

White himself crashed last month attempting the Double McTwist 1260. But he went on to be the first boarder to land the trick in competition for yet another a win at the Winter X-Games.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that crash didn’t shake me up,” White said. “But I think that trick—it is such an awesome amazing trick. It is something I didn’t plan on doing this season, but it has been an amazing finisher for my run and it is something I am proud to say is the best trick I have ever done.”

The pipe itself is the biggest, longest and steepest in Olympic history as well at 22 feet high versus 18 feet in 2006. It cost $10,000 Canadian dollars and its builders are billing it as geometrically perfect. The bigger pipe allows for bigger air and more transition time, paving the way for all those new show-stopping moves.

White’s biggest competitors will come from Kazuhiro Kokubo of Japan and Iouri “iPod” Podladtchikov of Switzerland. They’ll face off at 7:15 pm in Cypress Mountain tonight when we can expect White to pull out all the stops. It’s time to let The Animal loose.

This post first appeared in the Washington Times Communities on Feb. 17, 2010.

Karla Bruning

About 

Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.

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