White soars to Grand Prix win | VailDaily.com

White soars to Grand Prix win

Devon O'Neil
Special to the Daily/Kristin Skvorc Shaun White flies high over the Breckenridge Freeway halfpipe Wednesday during the men's Grand Prix final. White soared over the other 23 competitors with his first place score of 46.00.

BRECKENRIDGE – With every eye in sight missile-locked on him, Shaun White did something Wednesday he almost never does in a halfpipe: He stumbled.He regained his flow a moment later, of course, but the damage had been done. This one surely was going to be reflected in his score. And there it flashed: Bye-bye 40s, hello 35.4.White didn’t care, and he had no reason to. This was his victory lap, after all, the prize a No. 1 qualifier gets for laying down the winning run in his first trip down the pipe. The 19-year-old White did just that on Wednesday, putting together an even 46-point score to edge No. 2 qualifier Ross Powers at the Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix opener held in frigid conditions at Breckenridge’s Freeway pipe.The victory marked a crucial step in White’s determined bid to make the U.S. Olympic team for February’s Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Almost everyone agrees he is the gold medal favorite for those games, but as White knows best, he can’t live up to that billing unless he makes the American team. Doing well on the Olympic-qualifying Grand Prix tour is his ticket.”I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m feeling really good,” said White, whose winning assortment of tricks was more subdued than the “gnarly” set he’d planned for run No. 2. “I just showed up today and had a great feeling inside. It wasn’t that I felt cocky or anything, I just felt really positive about the whole day. It turned out great and I definitely got some weight off my shoulders for the next comp.”

That next competition will take place Saturday. If White wins there, he’s assured of a berth in Turin.Powers, meanwhile, is bidding for his third straight Olympic spot. The 26-year-old Vermonter won the 2002 gold medal in Salt Lake City after taking bronze in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. He said after Wednesday’s event that this year’s competition is the tightest he’s seen for an Olympic spot. It made the runner-up smile that much brighter.”I’m psyched to get on the podium,” Powers said. “I was hoping for a top five, but getting on the podium was what I really wanted.”Of his technically diversified second trip down the pipe, which earned the 44.4 runner-up score, Powers said, “It was one of the best runs I’ve done in a while.”

Surprise third-place finisher Scott Lago of Seabrook, N.H., had a similar experience, though he ranked his 43.1 score the best run of his brief pro career. (White simply called it “rad.”)Lago, who recently turned 18 and is in his first year on the U.S. Snowboard Team, had never finished better than 14th in a Grand Prix event leading up to Wednesday’s final. But when he landed everything he tried, his thoughts changed from simply hoping for a good result, to perhaps even making the Olympic team.”It was in the back of my mind, but I never thought it was possible” before today, he said of the Turin Games.Danny Kass, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, finished fourth (42.6), while Keir Dillon, who lives down the street from White in Carlsbad, Calif., took fifth.Breckenridge veteran Chad Otterstrom claimed sixth in a strong opening Grand Prix performance, his first since deciding this fall to make a push for the ’06 Winter Games. He said he could’ve landed slightly cleaner on a hit near the bottom of the pipe, but otherwise, “That was as good as I could’ve done. I’m pretty stoked on it.”

Gian Simmen, who won the inaugural men’s halfpipe gold medal at the 1998 Olympics, finished seventh to lead three Swiss riders into the top 10. Frederik Kalbermatten (ninth) and Markus Keller (10th) joined him.Breckenridge’s Steve Fisher used a first-run score of 35.9 to finish 11th, while last year’s Breck Grand Prix champ, Tommy Czeschin, took 16th.Reigning Olympic bronze medalist J.J. Thomas of Golden, who does much of his training at Breckenridge, finished 21st.The men now have an off day before resuming competition Friday morning with qualifying heats for Saturday’s final, the second of five events in the Grand Prix series. Each rider’s best two results will count toward his Olympic standing.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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