It’s Valentine’s Day here in PyeongChang, South Korea (though not in the U.S. quite yet) – and I began the day hoping it would turn out to be a love fest for Shaun White, the greatest Olympic snowboarder who ever dropped into a 22-foot halfpipe.
I could tell right away that the tempo of movement and people and energy here at our Phoenix Snow Park venue had ticked up noticeably from previous days.
The view from just outside our edit bay showed that folks were starting to head toward the halfpipe to see if Shaun White could win his third gold medal in four ties. Or whether his Japanese rival, Ayumu Hirano, would carry the day.
Or who knows? Maybe some dark horse rider — perhaps one of the other three young American boarders who qualified for the finals — would surprise us all and snatch the gold medal from the favorites.
I tramped through the snow toward the halfpipe, negotiating the crowds that had come to share in the excitement – and to be present when Winter Olympic history might be made.
It’s good to be a credentialed member of the press. You get to pass through your own entrance, and skip the lines to a degree.
But, even with credentials, there are times when you’re packed in with the fans. And that’s cool, too. You can feel the buzz.
Small wonder. People have traveled from all over the world to be a part of this day. This event. This moment.
I managed to skip the longest section of the line and take an express route to the pipe – passing a Korean band that must have just played to warm up the crowd. There’s always a musical performance before these events. I wished I had gotten to the venue in time to see these guys do what they do.
Arriving at the base of the halfpipe, the size of the crowd was large – and growing. This was clearly the biggest live audience I’ve yet seen at our venue. They all know that Shaun White is in the house. And something cool might be happening.
Here’s the halfpipe. If Shaun’s on today – he’s going to write the greatest chapter in the history of Olympic snowboarding in that pipe. Or, maybe he won’t. After all, he finished fourth at Sochi in 2014, just missing the medal podium.
The people massing at the foot of the halfpipe are an international combination of tourists, athletes and rabid sports fans from around the globe. They come ready to cheer on their national teams — but they appreciate every Olympian’s effort. You really do feel that world peace is possible when in you’re in a group like this. Which may also be part of why these people are here.
After the first run, I spotted my camera crew posted on an overlook above the crowd.
Taking advantage of my trusty press credentials yet again, I joined my talented cameraman, Corey, and my excellent associate producer, Agatha, on their perch to witness the final two runs of the finals.
In these finals, the 12 riders get 3 runs. The best score in any of those runs is the one that counts.
Shaun White threw down a great first run, which put him at the top of the leader board. Then Ayumu Hirano posted a score that knocked Shaun down to #2.
Ayumu Hirano in action in his 2nd run in the PyeongChang halfpipe .
Soon after Ayumu Hirano took the lead, in Shaun’s second run, the Shaun White Coronation Express went off the rails.
You may not have been able to see it in that video – but the sound of the crowd surely clued you in to the fact that Shaun wiped out mid-run. He would need a clean, stellar third run to best Ayumu Hirano for the gold.
Hirano fell in his third run – and was thus unable to improve upon his lead over Shaun White. To a killer competitor like Shaun, that’s putting blood in the water for a halpipe-eating shark. Here’s my view of Shaun White’s final run of the competition.
That was it. Last ride of the day. Best score of the day. Step up, Mr. White, and accept your third Olympic Gold Medal.
After witnessing that legendary Olympic moment, I was peckish. Luckily, the NBC commissary is not far from the halfpipe, so within minutes I was treated to this…
A Valentine’s Day party!
It always feels like we’re on some far-flung military base and they’re trying to remind us of the comforts and traditions we enjoyed back home.
It’s nice though.
Here’s to all my darling girls: Maura, Emilia, Eva – and most especially, Victoria! I miss you all.