White authored what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most indelible sequences of the PyeongChang Olympics Wednesday, winning his third Olympic gold medal with a masterful final run and immediately launching into a highly emotional celebration.
However, that happy moment was marred for more than a few viewers because of the way the 31-year-old handled the flag. At a news conference in PyeongChang Wednesday afternoon, the four-time Olympian said he wasn't aware he'd let the flag touch the ground.
"I remember being handed the flag. I was trying to put my gloves on and hold the flag and the board," he said. "Honestly, if there was anything, I definitely didn't mean any disrespect. The flag that's flying on my house right now is way up there. Sorry for that. But I'm definitely proud — very proud — to be a part of Team USA and being an American and to be representing for everyone back home."
White's post-race actions caused outrage among some observers and mixed emotions among others whose sense of patriotism was both stirred and offended by the scene.
At one point, White even stepped on the flag. It was obviously inadvertent, but his lack of attention to the symbol of the U.S. did not go unnoticed.
Under a section of the U.S. Code US called "Respect for flag," one entry states, "The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise." However, the section also advises against carrying the flag "flat or horizontally" and using it as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery," provisions that are frequently violated, including during some patriotic ceremonies.
Some Internet users were less concerned about White's flag etiquette than what they saw as a predictably outraged, and possibly hypocritical, response to it.
As many noted, even if White was guilty of carelessness in his handling of the flag, he could perhaps be excused, given the overwhelming magnitude of the moment. A gold medal winner as the rock-star "Flying Tomato" in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, he barely missed the podium in 2014 and came to PyeongChang with a deeper appreciation for the moment, especially given a training accident in October that required 62 stitches in his face.
Going into his final run Wednesday, White was assured of a medal, but he needed to top 19-year-old Japanese star Ayumu Hirano to earn the gold. After accomplishing the feat, White broke down in tears as he celebrated with his family.
According to NBC, White's father said that he had never seen his decorated son cry. Then, as those two went in for a tight hug, White could be heard on the telecast telling his father, "We f—ing did it!" That faux pas, however, did not seem to spark quite as much outrage