MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. (AP) — Shaun White lay flat on the ground in a daze, with a couple of medics hovering over him to assess the damage.
“I haven’t taken a hit like that in a long time,” he said.
A few hours after that frightening scene played out, White earned his spot in the Olympics — winner of Thursday’s second slopestyle qualifying event despite a nasty, face-first fall in the first contest that almost caused him to scrub the whole day.
“I went down and got some food and some medicine and came back and just knew that was all I had in me,” White said.
As is usually the case, it was enough.
White strung together three straight dazzling jumps to score a 95.2, then sat out his second run but got the win when none of the other 12 competitors could do better.
The victory made White the top American in two of the four qualifiers and guaranteed a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that, though seemingly preordained, has come with its fair share of injuries and angst.
On Friday, the two-time Olympic halfpipe champion is expected to ride on the halfpipe and try to secure his spot there. Slopestyle is making its debut in the Olympics this year, which has created a jam-packed schedule for White, who hopes to win gold in both. There’s another slopestyle qualifier Saturday, though it’s hard to imagine he’ll compete in that.
“You crash, and then the next morning is when you really feel it,” he said. “I have a date with a tub full of ice right now. I’m so thankful to make that run and to be on top of the podium and heading to Sochi. I’m beside myself. It went from one side of the coin all the way to the other from this morning with that crash to, now, winning.”
It’s been a longer road than that.
White’s struggles this season began Dec. 14, when he tweaked his left ankle during the preliminary heats of the first halfpipe qualifying competition in Breckenridge, Colo. He finished second that day, but pulled out of the slopestyle contest.
The next week in Copper Mountain, he competed in slopestyle, but not halfpipe. After a third-place finish — normally a bummer for someone used to winning everything — he insisted he was satisfied and his coach, Bud Keane, said the only goal is to win golds in Sochi, nowhere else.
Four weeks later, White opened his slopestyle quest on a sunny day in Mammoth with a face-first fall as he attempted a double cork 1080 — three twists wrapped inside two flips. After being checked out by medics, he made it down the hill under his own power, and tried for the second run. But he under-rotated his first jump and aborted the run, riding slowly to the bottom.
A bad sign for the most famous American athlete left on the U.S. roster now that Lindsey Vonn has scratched.
Unlike Vonn, however, White didn’t endure a season-ending injury, and hours later, he was celebrating after a run that included three jumps involving three or more twists.
After reaching the bottom cleanly, he pumped his fists, then fell flat to the ground and covered his face with his hands.
On the women’s side, Jamie Anderson won both contests to secure her trip in Sochi — a nice rebound after a seventh-place finish in Copper Mountain three weeks ago.
“It definitely brings some peace knowing that I’ve locked in my spot,” Anderson said. “I still definitely want to do well at the next events, but this was the one I was pretty nervous for, and really just wanted to put down a run and go from there.”
Ryan Stassel won Thursday morning’s event and is now in the mix with Sage Kotsenburg, Chas Guldemond and a handful of others for the final two men’s slopestyle spots, which will be decided Saturday. Kotsenburg finished second in both contests and has the inside track on one of the spots.