The gruesome injury that almost cost Shaun White his place in history

Shaun White claimed a third gold medal at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics but a brutal accident late last year meant his special piece of history almost never happened.

In October training, during his bid to represent the USA in a fourth Winter Olympic Games, tragedy struck the snowboarding legend.

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White pointed his board down the 22-foot Olympic SuperPipe in Cardrona, New Zealand, a place he’d journeyed to in his own search for the endless winter (ie. ideal training conditions).

His singular focus was on pushing himself to do whatever he had to do to get to the top of the podium for a third time.

It’s how he found himself in the air, more than four metres above the rim of the pipe in the middle of a “cab double cork 1440” – essentially spinning twice while flipping four times.

White had to get 62 stitches after the accident. Pic: Yahoo Sports

What happened next is part of White’s dramatic journey to PyeongChang: a 300km helicopter ride to a hospital; emergency surgery; 62 stitches; and a 5-day stay in a New Zealand hospital.

To come back from the severity of that injury and qualify for the Games was a remarkable feat in itself.

Clinching a third gold medal just four months later and becoming the first snowboarder in Winter Olympics history to do so - was beyond incredible.

White pulled off a spectacular final run of the day to snatch the gold medal from Japan's Ayumu Hirano, who was leading on 95.25, with Australia's Scotty James third on 92.00.

It was particularly satisfying for White, known as "Flying Tomato" because of his red hair, who won gold in 2006 and 2010 and helped put the hipster sport on the map, but flopped in Sochi four years ago.

White said it had been an agonising wait for his score from the judges to come through, as he pipped Hirano to the title to make US history.

"Oh man, that was awful and amazing at the same time. I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I'd won, it crippled me," he said.

"I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I've been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand (in October) where I busted my face open.

"I actually did the same trick that injured me here in the halfpipe today. So there were a lot of obstacles to overcome and now it's all worth it."

Japan's Hirano had to settle for a second silver in a row and James, a two-time world champion, saw his victory hopes dashed as he fell on his final effort.

White called his winning run in the tricky conditions in South Korea "one of the most challenging I've ever done" because of the combinations he pulled off.

His watching family were "beside themselves", he said.

"I'm still shaking, I don't know what's happening.

"Man, three gold medals. My fourth Olympics. Thank you, I'm feeling blessed."

With agencies

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