Call them the even-if Olympics.
Shaun White's bid to land a third consecutive halfpipe gold was going to be one of the most anticipated events of the Sochi Games even if he hadn't hit the deck in his first run of the finals like Tom Hanks' co-stars in "Captain Phillips."
Even if his friend and admirer Iouri Podladtchikov — a Switzerland-residing Russian native known, with Jobs-ian flair, as I-Pod — hadn't staged the run of his life and come down with a stratospheric score.
Even if someone else besides White had stood atop the halfpipe podium some other time since 2002.
Even if White hadn't dropped out of the other big snowboarding event to focus exclusively on this one.
All these things of course did happen in the run-up to White’s fateful last attempt, making it one of those climactic moments that a sports TV producer — and fan — stays up nights dreaming of.
"It just felt like," studio commentator Cris Collinsworth said shortly after it ended, "it was setting us up for one of those ‘you take it for the rest of your life’ kind of moments.’”
In TV terms, it was a win no matter what happened on that last run. Sure, a network likes a happy ending. But what it likes even more is a doubtful ending, for as long as possible, because that's what keeps us watching. Previous Games had White's win in the bag by the time his second run came around, taking the stress from fans but excitement from the telecast.
This time NBC got what it wanted: a for-all-the-marbles moment at the end of a competition, a finale that had potential for drama and endless commercials. It milked this constantly. Of course, NBC in Sochi can always milk things constantly, because these events happened many hours before they air, and so the network controls what it shows, and when, and how much. But it had a lot more to milk this time out. And it used the whole dairy farm.
"Shaun White has put himself in a come-from-behind situation."
"It's simple now Shaun — you gotta bring out your trick."
"The most dominant force in halfpipe snowboarding ever."
"Shaun White never been in this position before."
So is there, like, a snowboard competition going on or something?
The international-feed cameras in Sochi are everywhere, which does allow for some great shots.
At the bottom of the mountain, where I-Pod could be seen reacting ever so slightly when White faltered.
High above the side of the pipe, where every McTwist and Yolo flip could be captured in all its airitude, preferably in slow motion to enhance the Superman effect.
And at the top of the mountain, where perhaps the most melancholy moment of the White album was recorded Tuesday. I-Pod had just completed his massive run. White was in the tent at the top of the hill, conferring with coaches, sipping water, pacing not-nervously-but-totally-nervously before his last-shot-at-the-dream run. Did he know what just happened? Yes, a TV monitor directly in his sight line, just over the back of his head, was showing I-Pod being mobbed at the bottom of the hill after his impeccable run. White couldn't not see it. It highlighted just what these guys face. There's your opponent, his success beamed right up into your pre-race ritual, his celebrations either your greatest motivation or a most daunting specter.