Shaun White qualifies first in SuperPipe

ASPEN, Colo. -- After dropping out of the Men's Snowboard Slopestyle elimination round Friday with an ankle injury, Shaun White had many action sports fans wondering if he'd be able to defend his gold medal four-peat in the SuperPipe on Sunday at Winter X Games 2012.

Whether he can win his fifth consecutive gold medal in the event remains to be seen until Sunday night's finals, but one thing is certain: White still rules in the pipe, ankle injury or no.

"It was just brutal to sit one out," White said, after missing the Slopestyle event. He had hoped to make a statement in Slopestyle after a few years off the podium, now that Slopestyle has been accepted as an Olympic medal sport for the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. "I was just sitting on the bed with ice, doing nothing. I talked to the doctor, I was like, 'what do I gotta do?' He was like, 'you've gotta rest.' "

In morning practice White was lofting massive airs as high as 20 feet above the lip of the pipe and throwing "warm-up" runs that looked as if he were going for the gold. He even broke out a new trick for the fans gathered at Buttermilk Mountain as a teaser of things to come: A frontside double cork 1260 that could put him back in his familiar position at the top of the podium Sunday night.

White has won the event every year since 2008 and is the most decorated athlete in the Winter X Games with 16 medals, (11 of them gold), and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe. He also has five X Games medals in Skateboard Vert, two of them gold, and topped the Skateboard Vert podium at X Games 2011 in July.

White took an early lead in the SuperPipe elimination round on Sunday afternoon, posting a Run 1 score of 88.66 to make the top-eight finals cut with a big, floating backside air, a frontside 1080 double cork, a Cab 1080 double cork, a stylish frontside 540 stalefish, a backside 900, and a lofty nosegrab on his final hit. His score held for the lead in the elimination round, sending him to the eight-man finals as the leader of the pack, where he'll join Luke Mitrani, Ryo Aono, Matt Ladley, Greg Bretz, Iouri Podladtchikov, Louie Vito and Christian Haller under the lights for the big show.

ESPN, ESPN 3 and ESPN 3D will broadcast the Winter X Games live at 9 p.m. ET Sunday with the Men's Snowboard SuperPipe finals starting at 9:45 p.m. ET.

Colin Bane is a freelance writer who writes for ESPN.com Action Sports.