Shaun White qualified first into the finals of the men’s snowboarding halfpipe event at the Winter Olympics in a qualifying round that saw high scores more reminiscent of a final for the leading competitors.

Shaun White snowboarding halfpipe
Shaun White put up a 98.50 score to qualify for the finals in the men’s halfpipe, but might need to go even higher to win gold. (Image: Mike Blake/Reuters)

White scored a 93.25 on his first qualifying run, which would have comfortably put him in the final. But he still went all out on his second run at the halfpipe, putting up an impressive 98.50 score, leading the field at the end of the session.

“I get my favorite spot, dropping in last,” White said, referring to the fact that qualifying in the top position will allow him to go last during the three runs of the final. “It is a really good luck spot so I am really lucky to have it.”

White Favored Over Field

White, 31, has already won two gold medals in this event, taking the top spot in both 2006 and 2010 before sliding down to fourth place in 2014. His name looms large over the halfpipe and snowboarding in general, and the odds at Bovada reflect this. White is a -140 favorite to win the gold medal at that bookmaker.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any challengers. Australian Scott James (+400) qualified in second place with a 96.75 score, and still has an ace in the hole — a switch backside double cork 1260, a trick that only he has landed in competition.

While the high scores in qualifying surprised many, James said he wasn’t shocked that so many riders seemed to put maximum effort into the preliminary round.

“I think it’s to be expected,” James said. “The Olympics, this is where the level of riding is gonna be really high.”

The other rider that is considered a favorite is Japan’s Ayumu Hirano (+350), who qualified in third place with a 95.25 score. The defending silver medalist included back-to-back double cork 1440s in his qualifying run, a combination that perhaps only he and White can pull off in competition.

Yet even with that great performance, Hirano said he’ll be looking to do even more in the final. “Today I did not execute fully because it is qualification,” he said. “My focus has always been on the final.”

Perfect Score Controversy

The difference between the 1260 that James has landed and the 1440s that are shown off by his main rivals has caused some minor controversy in recent days. James questioned whether or not White had really deserved the perfect 100 he received at the Snowmass Grand Prix. According to James, his real concern was over how the two tricks might be perceived, as his is considered technically more difficult despite requiring a half-rotation less.

“What I was saying earlier in the week was trying to differentiate between the 1440s and my switch backside and what I thought of that,” James said. “I have talked to the judges and I am trying to be more proactive as opposed to negative.”

Overall, five riders put up scores of 90 or above in qualifying. All four American riders made the final, with White being joined by Ben Ferguson (+1400), Chase Josey (+5000), and Jake Pates (+3300). Japan also qualified three riders, with Raibu Katayama (+2000) and Yuto Totsuka (+1600) joining Hirano, while Taku Hiraoka just missed, qualifying in 13th place.