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White Solidifies Position as the Olympic Favorite

Carlsbad snowboarder easily defeats the field to win the gold medal in the X Games, his final statement before going to the Turin Games.

January 31, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

ASPEN, Colo. — There will be no sure things as far as athletic performances are concerned at the Winter Olympics -- that's what makes the Games so fun to watch.

But the surest thing at Turin may well be Shaun White.

Using the Winter X Games to make his final statement before packing for Italy, the Carlsbad athlete on Monday night soared higher, spun better and maintained his balance longer to earn scores of 90.33, 90.00 and 91.00 -- all three better than the scores of any other competitor.

With the riders' best single run counting, White needed only one, of course, but with three in the 90s -- the last two on runs during which he pulled off three 1080-degree spins -- he showed the kind of consistency that has become his trademark.

"I just want to go to Torino. It's all I want to do, and it's all I've been thinking about," White said. "I'm taking this crazy road to get there but I'm pumped. I can't wait. I've got some confidence now."

Monday night's superpipe competition was an Olympic preview of sizable proportions as five of the 10 snowboarders in the final are bound for Turin -- and they may be the five strongest candidates to win Olympic gold.

The two Finns considered the biggest threat to the powerful U.S. team, Risto Mattila and Antti Autti (last year's X Games gold medalist) finished fourth and sixth, respectively.

Danny Kass, the silver medalist in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, had an uncharacteristically poor performance, falling often en route to a last-place finish.

But Mason Aguirre, a dark horse on the U.S. Olympic team, finished second with a top 88.66 and seemed on his way to a high-scoring third run before seating briefly toward the end.

"That's how it goes," the 18-year-old from Mammoth Lakes said. "I was really hoping to get that first run [the 88.66] and from that point on whatever the outcome was I was going to be stoked."

(Andy Finch, the fourth U.S. team member, is nursing a bruised left foot suffered in practice.)

As for White, 19, the crazy road to get where he is now -- as the prohibitive Olympic gold-medal favorite -- was crazy only in that it lacked potholes. White won the first two U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix events, earning a spot on the Olympic team, then won the last three.

His X Games superpipe triumph came on the heels of his fourth consecutive victory in the slopestyle competition, which involves acrobatics on a downhill course with rails and jumps.

By collecting his sixth overall gold medal he tied action-sports icon Shaun Palmer for the most X Games gold.

His goal has been to make the Olympic team since he barely missed qualifying, at 15, for the Salt Lake City Games. His inspiration during the last year, though, stems from his fourth-place finish in last year's X Games.

Autti pulled off a stunning upset with consecutive 1080s. White set out to master those -- practicing during the New Zealand winter -- and has added a third to his routine.

So have the others, but the trick is linking them to other difficult maneuvers, performing them stylishly and sticking the landings.

"I've still got something up my sleeve for the Games," White cautioned. "I don't want to let it out of the bag now."

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