Jan 30, 2010 1:09 PM by Associated Press
Shaun White's face smacked against the halfpipe, his neck snapped back and his helmet popped off and flew 15 feet in the air.
A sick wreck in practice Friday night that will be replayed and remembered - maybe even longer than his comeback an hour later that earned the world's best halfpipe rider a third straight Winter X Games title.
"I've paid my dues for that trick," White said. "But it's worth it."
Still, it was a frighteningly close call with the Olympics only two weeks away.
The 2006 Olympic champion hurt himself on the newest, most unpredictable and most dangerous trick in his repertoire: the Double McTwist 1260, in which he hurtles himself 15-20 feet above the halfpipe, then does two head-over-heels flips and 3 1/2 rotations.
Sometimes he lands.
He did just that in his first run of the finals - a performance that gave him the winning score of 95.33, which turned out to be 1.67 better than Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland.
Sometimes he doesn't.
That's what happened in the final run, when he was still, unbelievably, pushing it - going for the perfect score, something he'll only obtain if he links two easier versions of the jump, then completes the routine with the Double McTwist 1260.
And sometimes it's a near disaster.
Which was the story during that practice run, when he misjudged his position above the pipe and came down hard, slamming his face against the pipe and falling flat on the ice.
"That trick is just a beast of its own," White said. "And on some days, it's just tougher than others."
He came off the pipe under his own power, but was checking his jaw and mouth to make sure everything was still there. He had a big, red abrasion on the lower left side of his cheek - one that looked worse hours later, under the glare of the TV lights.
But minutes after the wreck, White was heading down the pipe again for another practice run.
"A weird decision," he called it.
"But I knew I needed to make it and keep going and kind of push through something like this," he said. "I don't know. I'm a snowboarder and didn't want to give up. I cracked my head pretty good. I was pretty dazed after that one."
Between the end of practice and his first competition run, there was footage of him watching the wreck in super slo-mo, which makes it look worse than in real time.
"Oops. Oooh. Oh my God," he says, as he throws his hands over his head while watching the gruesome repeat.
It certainly will take on a life of its own on YouTube and ESPN, the sponsor of these games that showed it no fewer than a dozen times during live coverage of the event.
A good story because it ended well, but one that will certainly bring even more scrutiny to a sport that has been hit with a number of bad landings and injuries over the past few months. One of White's main rivals, Kevin Pearce, is recovering from a severe head injury in a Salt Lake City hospital after a Dec. 31 accident that probably looked a lot like what the crowd of 20,500 saw Friday night.
White, the multimillionaire and mass-marketing sensation, is pushing the envelope with his new trick. The closeness of this contest - the biggest night on the halfpipe this side of the Olympics - provides the proof that risks must be taken to win.
The ante started being raised when the size of the pipe was increased four feet, to 22 feet, a few years ago. The risk-taking began with the double-cork 1080 - two overhead flips with only three twists, which is what most of the best riders will bring to the Olympics. It progressed recently to White's 1260.
"I had it in my mind a few years ago, but actually to do it and do it in a run and do it consistently every time is something we couldn't imagine until you actually saw him do it," said Podladtchikov, who is nicknamed the ‘I-Pod.'
White said he knew as soon as he took off on the practice run that things wouldn't end well. But he went straight back up the hill and practiced it again "so it wouldn't turn into some weird complex in my mind."
He knew he'd be feeling the pain when he wakes up Saturday.
"I'm sure my jaw's going to be locked up in the morning, the whole deal," he said.
And so, the legend grows.
"I was pumped to get it done, to land the trick, to take first tonight and to actually walk away from that plant and still be going to the Olympics," he said.