Shaun White leads halfpipe qualifying
All the talk of a substandard halfpipe didn't stop American Shaun White from opening his Olympics with a huge score.
White racked up a 95.75 in his first run Tuesday, the top score in the qualifying round, on a day when Olympic organizers originally announced they were eliminating qualifying in hopes of better conditions, then quickly changed their minds.
Afterward, White promised something special for Tuesday night's halfpipe final.
"You heard the rumors," he said. "I've been working on some big tricks."
Could it be the "YOLO" -- a double-cork 1440? Or maybe the triple-cork move he worked on for about a year but supposedly abandoned?
"There's definitely something special," he said. "I'm going to play it by ear, though."
The 27-year-old, in search of his third straight gold medal, strung together back-to-back double-corks in his first qualifying heat to score a 95.75. On the second, which he said was just a practice run for things he might try later, White slipped up on his final jump and scored a 70.75.
He qualified directly for the final, as did fellow American Danny Davis.
American Gregory Bretz reached the final after finishing second in the semifinal with an 83.00.
The final U.S. snowboarder, Taylor Gold, finished eighth in the semifinal after falling on his final jump and did not advance. The top six in the semfinal made the final, joining the top six that qualified directly from the first qualification heats.
Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano topped the first qualifying heat with a 92.25. He qualified directly for the final, along with Switzerland's Christian Haller and David Habluetzel.
Hirano, 15, won the silver medal at X Games Aspen in 2013 and is considered one of the top contenders to prevent White's bid for a third straight gold.
In the second qualifying heat, Taku Hiraoka matched his countryman Hirano with a 92.25 for second place behind White, while Davis was third at 92.00.
Gold opened with runs of 81.50 and 87.50 in the qualifying round. Both scores would have automatically qualified him for the final if he had been in the first heat. Instead, he is done after falling in the semis.
Swiss star Iouri Podladtchikov -- also known as "I-Pod" -- also had to qualify through the semifinals. White, who started working on the YOLO after seeing Podladtchikov land it at the European Winter X Games last year, gave him a hug at the bottom of the halfpipe after the first qualifying round.
He said he told him, "I love you man, but you're making me nervous."
Also qualifying for the final through the semifinal were Kent Callister of Australia, Slovenia's Tim-Kevin Ravnjak and China's Yiwei Zhang and Wancheng Shi.
White said he remains happy with his decision to pull out of the slopestyle competition to give himself three full days of practice on a halfpipe that's been less than ideal from the start.
"I'm really hoping it holds up for finals," he said.
Rising temperatures had wreaked havoc with the halfpipe during training, but competition began with qualifying at 5 a.m. ET, as originally planned.
Conditions were warm and the bottom of the pipe was slow because of granular, slushy snow. But many of the riders said some of the problems they faced with the overly vertical shaping of the pipe have been improved. The previously announced change would have had riders compete only in a "semifinal."
"It's going to be tricky, but it's going to really show the good actual snowboarder," Britain's Dominic Harington said after being eliminated. "If you're good at snowboarding, you should be able to get on your back foot and you should prepare for the bumps, so you should know how to deal with it."
Davis said Monday that the run needed a lot of work, while 2006 gold medalist Hannah Teter, who will compete in the women's contest Wednesday, called the halfpipe "crap."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.