With his first-place victory in halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Shaun White has made history as the only three-time gold medalist snowboarder at the Games
Days before he flew down a mountain in Pyeongchang, South Korea, snowboarder Shaun White told PEOPLE he could visualize exactly what it would look like for him to lay down the best run of his career and nab a record-breaking third Olympic gold medal in the men’s halfpipe — rebounding both from a disappointing showing at the 2014 Sochi Games and a bloody crash in New Zealand in October.
On Wednesday morning (Tuesday night stateside) at the 2018 Winter Games, it happened almost exactly as he planned, right down to the first-place finish.
With a stunning score of 97.75 in his final run at the Phoenix Snow Park, White edged out 11 other competitors including three Americans: Chase Josey, Ben Ferguson and Jake Pates.
The moment prompted tears of joy from the veteran athlete, with NBC announcing that his father was overheard saying that he’s never seen his son cry before in competition. White looked overcome with emotion as he embraced his family.
“I just felt so overwhelmed,” he told NBC after the win. “People talking about my age, my injury in New Zealand … It’s all worth it now.”
“It just means the world to me to come back from the defeat at Sochi to find the love and passion of those sport again and be able to deliver a run like this,” he told reporters at a news conference later Wednesday.
With this latest victory, White, 31, has now made history as the only three-time gold medalist snowboarder at the Games. (And he brings Team USA’s total medal count to seven, including the top spot in all four snowboarding events to date.)
The win also places him in the record books for another reason: He nabbed the United States’ 100th Winter Olympics gold medal. “Lotta 100s in my journey here,” he said at the news conference, referring to the perfect score he earned last month to qualify for the Olympic team.
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Much like fellow teammate Chloe Kim, who picked up gold the day before in the halfpipe, White used social media to interact with fans during the competition.
“Man I put down a heck of a run,” he said shortly after his successful first run, in one of several Instagram story posts.
Of the possibility he could earn another gold, White told PEOPLE last week:
“I’ve had it in my mind of what it would like, and I can visually see myself going through the run and seeing all the people that I know are coming out here at the bottom — like I can just see it.”
White delivered a clean first run. His second run tripped him up, however, when a fall allowed Japan’s Ayumu Hirano to pass him going into his final turn on the halfpipe.
But a slip-up on Hirano’s final run paved the way for White, who delivered a stunning final run that rocketed him to gold. (The competition was also notable for a nasty crash by Japan’s 16-year-old competitor, Yuto Totsuka.)
“It’s just all about getting there and kind of matching that vision with reality,” White said after arriving in Korea ahead of his competition, “because that’s what’s happened before in the past Olympics. But it would mean the world to me.”
White had set himself up well for success after a pair of qualifying runs on Tuesday in which he topped the other boarders both times, improving on his own score from 93.25 to 98.50 and putting to rest any concerns about his performance.
Last fall, he suffered a brutal blow to the face when he hit the top of the halfpipe while doing a double cork 1440 on the slopes in New Zealand — an injury needing 62 stitches and for which he still receives visits from a physical therapist to break up the scar tissue in his lip. (“I’m sitting there trying to watch TV and there are just hands in my mouth like massaging my lip,” he told PEOPLE recently.)
A repeat gold medalist in halfpipe at the 2006 and 2010 Games, White fell during his first of two runs in the final at Sochi in 2014, ultimately ending off the podium in fourth.
That loss was a kind of blessing, though, giving White the time and space to recharge after a draining period trying to do too many things at once.
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“Would I have liked to have won the last Olympics?” White said last week. “Sure, for sure, that would be great. But there’s so many lessons learned from that and then the fact that I didn’t win, I still feel confident and accomplished and all these things, it’s a really nice feeling.”
“So going into this Olympics, that’s what’s so great,” he told PEOPLE. “It’s like win or lose, my eyes are open to both experiences. I know what’s coming either way, and I know that I have this amazing life waiting for me no matter what happens. So I’m more happy and more motivated than ever, just because I know it’s a win-win.
“But I want to win.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.