PYEONGCHANG, South Korea —
Shaun White hit the bottom of the halfpipe, and the only sound that could have been louder than the roar of the crowd beyond him was the primal scream emanating from him. It was a moment of celebration unlike any White had experienced on a snowboard, full of joy, redemption, pride, and pain.
From the moment he’d dropped in for one final run Wednesday to the moment he finished what his coach, J.J. Thomas, would later call “the best halfpipe I’ve ever seen in the history of the sport,” White, still making his way through the media mixed zone more than two hours later, could scarcely remember what just happened, never mind believe it. One last run, one point from gold, and one step from a history-making turn as the halfpipe’s first three-time gold medalist, White busted out a stunning 97.75-point run full of unimaginable tricks and impossible landings, including something he’d never done before, completing back-to-back 1,440s. It was, in a word, remarkable.
So, it must give us every reason to celebrate, to cheer for an American sporting icon, the 31-year-old redhead who didn’t simply change the face of a sport, but establish one?
If only it were that easy. Rooting for White has suddenly become complicated, framed by a disappointing turn in the #MeToo crosshairs, details of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former female bandmate making renewed appearances in the headlines, including details of aggressive, punitive, and off-color behavior published by Deadspin and other outlets that would disgust anyone.
White was eventually asked about the allegations during his final postrace news conference, and he tried to silence an issue he years ago settled out of court by calling it gossip. “Honestly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” White said, before a follow-up question was cut off by the media rep. White apologized later on NBC’s ‘‘Today’’ show, saying he used ‘‘a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject.’’
Of course White should have been asked, and reporters had every right to try and ask again (and how about handing the microphone to one of the women who had their hands raised?). This is the post-Harvey Weinstein world and let’s not forget, there is no question to ask if there is no accusation to begin with. That part is on White, on his record, an admission of having done something ugly enough — White has admitted to sending the sexually explicit text messages and pictures to the young woman, calling the entire exchange a consensual joke — to detract from an otherwise incredible story.
Because on a sports level, that’s what Wednesday was. Remember, White is 31 years old. His teenage counterparts are taking over the sport — 17-year-old wunderkinds Chloe Kim and Red Gerard beat him to the top of the podium — but he refuses to be pushed aside. Remember, White failed to get that third career gold four years ago in Sochi, when the same setup as this resulted in a passionless, ho-hum final run and a fourth-place finish. Remember, White renewed his commitment to the sport only to spend months in recovery from a brutal fall (on the same 1,440 move that won him gold Wednesday), an accident that split his face open, leaving scars that still dot the landscape from his forehead to his chin.
And it left him wondering if he’d ever be here again.
“I cried at my first Olympics, and now I’m crying at my fourth Olympics,” White said. “It means the world to me, to win in that fashion; that was something special, that last run. All that hard work, all the injuries, the ups and downs, the decision to come back after all that — you just did it. I don’t think you can ever forget this day.
“I’m proud that I’m on top. I don’t say that often about myself. But I’m proud of what I did.”Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.