PYEONGCHANG - American snowboarding superstar Shaun White produced a gnarly display of acrobatic skills to top halfpipe qualifying in Pyeongchang and send a chilling warning as he chases a third Olympic title.

The 31-year-old, who swept to gold at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, limbered up with a score of 93.25 points before tearing it up on his second run with a 98.50 that brought gasps from the packed crowd. By far snowboarding's biggest star, White helped put the hipster sport on the map when his long red locks earned him the nickname "Flying Tomato".

But after failing to win a medal in Sochi four years ago, White arrived in South Korea sporting a shorter, slicked-back look -- more boy band than grunge rocker. He is also determined to show snowboarding's next generation that he is no spent force after scoring a controversial perfect 100 in Colorado last month that sparked accusations of favouritism towards the American.

"Oddly enough I was a little nervous," White told reporters after edging Australia's Scotty James for the honour of dropping in last in Wednesday's three-run final. "There is such a build-up to get to the Olympics, people forget you have to qualify. I still had to put that run down, but it took the pressure off."

Japan's Ayumu Hirano, who won silver in Sochi and is tipped as an outside bet to snatch gold in Pyeongchang, posted the third-best score. "I didn't want to take any risks in qualifying," said the 19-year-old. "All I had in mind was to play it safe and get through."

After watching young compatriot Chloe Kim take gold in the women's halfpipe earlier on Tuesday, White was in no mood to settle for second  best -- as his electrifying second descent proved.After soaking in the applause, he said: "I started seeing everybody putting together these great runs and I figured I would just step it up."

All eyes will be on the top three in the final, while White had some words of advice for Japanese shredder Hirano, who won last month's Winter X Games. "I've watched Ayumu since he was 13," he smiled. "They were saying that he would be the next Shaun White -- as a small kid. That's a lot of pressure to live up to. But I'm still here!"

Redemption’ tour

On Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning, depending on the time zone, the world will watch in primetime as two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White attempts to earn his third in men’s halfpipe. In the qualification round, aired late Monday night, White proved that his recent, horrific injuries, which might have prevented him from qualifying for Team USA altogether, won’t be enough to stop him from his quest for a third gold.

Following a September crash that sent him to the hospital, in October, training to qualify for the Olympics, White smashed his face up on the lip of a halfpipe. 62 stitches later, White’s face — which has quite literally become the center of his company, Shaun White Enterprises — shows hardly a scar, but he has carried the experiences with him into what many believe will be his final quest for snowboarding gold.

If there were questions about White’s health or headspace heading into the 2018 Winter Games, he put them to rest, for now, in the halfpipe qualifiers.

Oh, and about that — men’s snowboarding judges have only ever given out two perfect 100s. White owns both of them. But even though White may be as close as it gets to perfect on the pipe, he’s far from it off it. White received his first snowboarding sponsorship with Burton at seven years old.  He’s been in the spotlight for a long time, and, occasionally, it has shone on some less-than-stellar parts of his personality.

White’s transgressions have ranged from the fairly banal — getting arrested for vandalism and public intoxication as a 26-year-old after attending The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s wedding — to something far more insidious. In 2017, Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer of White’s band, Bad Things, brought a lawsuit against him for, initially, breach of contract for failing to pay her salary and, then, added sexual harassment allegations to her suit. White denied the harassment allegations. White and Zawaideh did eventually reach a settlement out of court in May 2017, the terms of which have not been released. White finished fourth at the 2014 Sochi Games, just off the podium, which is the basis of the media’s focus on his “redemption” storyline. “People ask, ‘When are you going to get over it?’ You know, the loss or whatever. You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it,” White told NBC in 2017.  And there’s no question that White has attempted to remake himself ahead of these Pyeongchang Games, both on and off the course.