BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — The clock is ticking. Only 14 months to go until the Winter Olympics. Shaun White’s message to snowboarding fans (And maybe the competition, too): “Expect the unexpected.”
The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who has the toughest trick in the sport, says he’s not content with the Double McTwist 1260 that pushed both himself and snowboarding to new heights at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
As he heads into this weekend’s Dew Tour iOn Mountain Championship finals, the opening event on the 2012-13 snowboarding calendar, White said there’s more to come, with the Sochi Games just a little over a year away.
“I’ve been doing that trick for a couple years now, and it’s like, ‘OK, I’m rather comfortable with it compared to where it was before,’” White said Friday. “I was intimidated to throw it before, especially after my little crash at the X Games where I lost my helmet. So, for me, I see tons of possibilities.”
White’s win in Vancouver came only three weeks after he hit his face on the halfpipe and his helmet popped off during a practice run at the Winter X Games in Aspen. He wasn’t severely injured, but the moment underscored both the difficulty of the trick, along with the dangers inherent in his sport, which had been rocked less than a month previously by a severe head injury suffered by one of its up-and-coming stars, Kevin Pearce.
Pearce has recovered, and on Friday in Breckenridge, he was interviewing White for an on-mountain broadcast near the base of the halfpipe – the best in the world being questioned by the rider who, in many ways, helped push him to new heights.
It was the move up in difficulty by Pearce and Pearce’s friend, Danny Davis, that served as a wake-up call for White in the weeks leading up to the 2010 Games. What resulted was his signature trick, in which he packs 31/2 twists into two head-over-heels flips while hovering over the edge of the pipe.
White actually secured his gold medal doing a run that didn’t feature the trick. But during his second run – basically a victory lap – he gave the people what they came to watch, landing the Double McTwist and falling flat on his back to the snow to celebrate at the bottom.
Olympic organizers voted to add slopestyle to the program starting in 2014, which gives White a chance at not one, but two gold medals in Sochi.
“It’s humbling. It’s cool. I think it’s great,” he said. “If I can bring attention to the sport and help it along, it’s exciting for me. Going back and doing a third time around in halfpipe would have been fun and exciting but not nearly as exciting as it’s going to be to compete in both. It’s been humbling for me to not only gain success in the sport but have the sport grow because of it.”
White, who is coming off surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, will not compete in slopestyle in Breckenridge, but plans on riding both the rails and the halfpipe in every event after this, beginning next month at Winter X.
In the past, he would put slopestyle on hold while ramping up for the Olympics, because the only gold medal available was on the halfpipe.
What casual followers might not know was that White had more success in slopestyle during his early years than he did on the halfpipe. Three of his first four gold medals at the X Games came in slopestyle.
“Slopestyle is a whole area I haven’t even been able to get into as much recently” because of the Olympic schedule and a number of minor injuries, he said. “That’s where I’ve got to make my biggest stand.”
While he was rehabbing his knee, White bought a house near the beach in San Diego, close to one of his favorite surf spots.
Also this summer, he made news when he pulled a fire alarm at a Nashville hotel — an episode that resulted in White being sentenced with 24 hours of community service.
“There’s always lessons learned,” he said. “It’s one of those things where they said, ‘Hey, you had a mistake. Did you learn from it? OK. Cool. Move on.’ So, I’ve moved on.”
Of course, snowboarders don’t sell themselves based on squeaky clean images — not even White, who maintains something of a swashbuckler’s image while also selling fans millions in his brand-name clothes at Target and other products.
All that business success, of course, wouldn’t be possible without the big tricks on the snowboard.
And nobody knows better how bright the spotlight will be 14 months from now in Russia.
“I’d just say to expect the unexpected,” White said. “I like it when you come in and go, ‘Oh, what else can be done?’ And then, it’s my job to take it a little further every time. I’ve already set things in motion to try to one-up everything I’ve done so far.”