BONGPYEONG-MYEON, South Korea – Shaun White wanted to go last. He liked knowing where his 11 competitors were Tuesday before driving into the icy halfpipe and into Olympic acclaim.
With the pressure squarely on his shoulders, White, 31, responded by going big.
Very, very big.
White scored a near-perfect final run of 97.75 points to roar past teen rival Ayumu Hirano of Japan, who fell on his final try just before White retook his crown.
White won his third Olympic title after finishing fourth in Sochi four years ago when the pressure sabotaged him.
Not this time. Not even competing against 11 others whose average age is 21.9 years old.
Hirano entered the Pyeongchang Games as the presumptive favorite, particularly after White had suffered two serious injuries in the fall — he needed 62 stitches after hitting his face on an edge while practicing a 1440 rotation trick that is the most difficult in the sport.
Hirano had back-to-back 1440s in a silver medal-winning second run that led to a dramatic finale by White.
"I've watched him since he was 13 years old," White said of Hirano, now 19. "He was in a tough position like I was as a kid where you have a lot of pressure to be the next big, great thing in the sport. They were saying that to him — that he would be the next Shaun White — as a small kid.
"I'm sitting there like what do you mean? I'm still here."
Yes, he is. White came to Korea feeling more relaxed and more reflective about what he has done with his career. He joked with reporters and fellow competitors, no longer living on the island he once created.
Some dared to suggest White's career was past tense because the kids were attempting tricks beyond his capabilities.
"It made me want to show this is what I've been doing my entire life," he said after qualifying. "I feel night and day physically and mentally from Sochi."
A stomach-turning fall by Japanese teen Yuto Totsuka in the second run, however, called into question the danger of a sport in which athletes' one-upmanship is reaching the edge of sanity.
Paramedics immobilized Totsuka after a devastating fall when the back of his board nicked the lip, sending him into a frightening spiral.
Seven riders later, his teammate Hirano put aside the nightmarish scene to overtake White with a score of 95.25 points.
White shrugged off the ever-increasing risks of snowboarding.
"It's just the evolution of the sport,'' White said. ''I'm just proud, I guess, to be asked that question about someone who changed the sport. I'm happy with where I'm at."
Scotty James of Australia won the bronze with a 92.00 on his first run.
White had two of the top three overall scores, falling on his second try.