February 01, 2013
Shaun White experienced a rare fall during his first run, but recovered to take the gold.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Shaun White surprised many when he chose to compete at this week's U.S. Grand Prix at Park City Mountain Resort.

A bigger surprise came Friday when he fell on his first run after over-rotating a trick, ending up with a face plant near the bottom of the 22-foot superpipe.

The two-time Olympic champion, however, still walked away with gold after a clean second run with plenty of big air earned him 97.25 points.

"That first run was brutal," said White, who was coming off his record sixth X Games gold. "I just misjudged the last hit and I had to squeak it out. I ended up on my face."

He said the frontside wall at Park City's pipe has so much vertical it actually pushes athletes farther down the landing.

"Kills your speed, kills your motivation, you got nothing to get to the next wall and that's what happened," he said.

That only motivated him more to nail the same trick - a double McTwist.

"All of these guys are riding so amazing, I had to give it everything I had," White said.

He did, to no surprise from teammates and those in the crowd.

"Shaun's human also, so he falls," said Luke Mitrani. "But he doesn't fall twice."

Scott Lago finished second with 94.50 points and Mitrani was third with 91.75 to complete an American sweep. Mitrani won the national title based on points earned at Friday's event and another event in Colorado this season - earning him an extra $20,000.

That added to the pressure.

So did seeing a bad fall by China's Yiwei Zhang, who wiped out hard after hitting the top of the pipe.

"Something that no one has ever really mentioned is that one of my best friends got hurt in this half-pipe, Kevin Pearce, and it was a lot of pressure being up there, for me, for some reason," Mitrani said.

"Well, I know why. I had to do the same trick that he fell on, and I remember just being up there stressing out. So at the end of the day, to walk away from this half pipe and nobody's hurt, I think it's a good achievement."

Pearce suffered a severe brain injury on Dec. 31, 2009, striking his head above his eyes on the edge of the pipe during a training run while trying a cab double cork. The injury ended his career but he has since recovered and is serving as an analyst at Winter X.

A year ago, top Canadian hopeful and freestyle pioneer Sarah Burke died after a fall in the same halfpipe during training. The 29-year-old sustained irreversible brain damage when one of the arteries supplying her brain ruptured.

Then on Thursday, Texas snowmobiler Caleb Moore died after succumbing to injuries sustained one week earlier at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., when his snowmobile flipped on top of him.

While there were plenty of spills Friday, none were serious.

Two-time Olympic medalist and four-time X Games champion Kelly Clark fell twice trying to land a difficult first trick and finished sixth.

The women's gold instead went to China's Jiayu Lui, who posted an 82 on her second run to edge American rookie Arielle Gold (80.25). American Kaitlyn Farrington was third with 73.25 points.

Gold ended up as the national champion, continuing an amazing run that included a win at the world championship two weeks ago in Quebec and a bronze as an X Games rookie last week in Aspen.

She was hampered by a shin injury suffered during a practice session this week. It didn't affect her runs, only fear of landing.

She wasn't complaining afterward.

"It's been an amazing season," Gold said. "I couldn't be happier with how things are going for me."

Lago was equally pleased with his second run, especially with White raising the level of competition each time he's in the field.

White chose to compete because he needed points to put toward Olympic qualifying.

"Honestly, it's a battle for second," Lago said after hearing White was in Park City. "I actually thought I had a really good shot today. That was probably the closest I've been to him in a while."

It helped that Lago landed a frontside double 1260 with a truck driver grab for the first time in competition. He fell on that that trick at the X Games last week.

"That second run honestly was probably one of the better runs I ever put down, including practice," Lago said. "I couldn't be any happier and couldn't have topped it, either."

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