James, who fired up much of the debate by questioning White's ideal 100 from a World Cup meet last month before bemoaning some of the scores he received, eased into qualification position with an 89-point first run.
After his run, which scored an nearly ideal 97.75, White roared and celebrated with his team, tearfully hugging Olympic bronze medallist Jarret "JJ" Thomas and young rider Toby Miller, who have been by White's side in the build-up to Pyeongchang.
On Wednesday all of White's heartache and pain from Sochi was dispelled as the 31-year-old put in a virtuoso performance to win the men's halfpipe and claim his third gold medal, the most by any snowboarder.
If White wins in the finals, which will be broadcast Tuesday night in the USA, he could claim the 100th gold medal for the U.S.at winter Olympics since 1924.
"I looked down the mountain and said to myself, "you know you've got this, it's what you've done your whole life, stay with the moment and you will win the Olympics".
Ayumu Hirano of Japan might be the biggest threat after winning the 2018 X Games gold medal in the SuperPipe. At the Sochi Olympics the following year he won a silver medal aged 15.
After scoring a brilliant 97.75 to pip Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano, he gushed: "I was so overwhelmed with happiness".
Four years after finishing one spot off the podium, the iconic American snowboarder won the Olympic halfpipe final at Phoenix Park on Wednesday.
James scored 89.00 on his first run before pulling off 96.75 in the second run. Two other riders from Japan join Hirano, and one other Australian athlete joins James. "I wish I could flip a switch and love you back.love snowboarding like I did when I was 7". He was going well in his final run but fell to finish behind in the third position. That run knocked White out of the top spot.
"Considering the circumstances, the pressure he was under, I think Shaun today was the best I have ever seen him", Kyodo News quoted him as saying. "Last run, pressure was on and I put it down, it was great".
While the culture of snowboarding occasionally finds itself at odds with the competitive nature of the sport - James openly questioned the judging before the Games and even said he's "not huge on flawless scores" - White embraces it. Shaun took the lead after the first round with a 94.75, which fans felt was way too low because what he nailed was so far and above any of his competition.
Before the final much of the competition pre-amble had centred on judging controversies, with James outspoken in his belief White shouldn't have received a ideal 100 in a World Cup competition last month. Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson won the men's and women's slopestyle contests, and Chloe Kim won the women's halfpipe event. "I need the build and the energy and it helps me get it done".
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