ASPEN, Colo. — Shaun White already soars higher in the superpipe than everyone else and lands complicated tricks with an ease that draws admiration from even his opponents.
Yet he’s not satisfied. Never is, really. Keep progressing – that’s his maxim.
White turned in a nearly flawless performance to win in the superpipe at the Winter X Games on Sunday night, then quickly vowed to step up his game. So much work to do. So little time left before the Sochi Olympics.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist is always looking to stay ahead of the competition, especially when the field includes up-and-comers such as Ayumu Hirano, a 14-year-old from Japan.
Shortly after locking up his sixth straight title at Winter X, White gushed about the teenager who finished runner-up, saying he thinks Hirano has an “amazing future” in front of him.
Only one problem: White isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Well, besides back to the drawing board to make his already innovative routine even more creative.
“A lot of things I’m doing this season I hope are just outdated by the next season,” said White. “I’m hoping to progress a lot.”
That’s why he’s taking a hiatus from skateboarding, his other passion. He’s got to perfect some new maneuvers in the pipe and iron out his glitches in slopestyle, which will make its Olympic debut next winter.
In that event, White is in catch-up mode after finishing fifth Saturday as Mark McMorris won his second consecutive title. McMorris is dominating a discipline that features snowboarders moving through rails, big jumps and bumps on their way down the hill.
So aggravated was White over his lackluster slopestyle performance that he redirected his frustration into the superpipe competition. There was a time when he wouldn’t have been able to do that.
“I used to get super stressed out, about something that would happen like in slopestyle,” said the 26-year-old White, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif. “I’m old enough to just turn that into such a positive thing for myself – to really take that step back as a giant leap forward.”
Still, it was an eye-opener. After all, McMorris isn’t going anywhere in slopestyle.
Neither is Hirano in the superpipe. Or Iouri Podladtchikov, who was expected to challenge White but pulled out of Sunday’s final at the last moment because of an illness.
Those athletes might be the biggest obstacles standing in the way of White’s quest for double Olympic gold in Sochi.
“(Hirano) was going as big as I was,” White said. “I was impressed.”
With good reason. In his first Winter X Games, Hirano became the youngest athlete ever to medal at the competition. He was all grins afterward, saying through an interpreter that he just “wanted to have fun.”
That he did.
And so did White, who seemed more relaxed than usual, stopping to pose for pictures with fans in between runs.
Then again, White really had nothing to worry about. No one was catching him on this night.
White’s second run was impeccable. He flew 24 feet into the air to start his performance and finished it off with a difficult maneuver that drew tremendous roars from the capacity crowd. He pumped his fists, too, because he knew he had nailed it.
This was the same series of tricks as his winning run last season, when he scored a perfect 100.
Only this time – and despite it being even cleaner – he received a 98.
He’s simply set the bar that high for himself.
“It’s cool, though,” White said with a casual shrug. “It makes me bring my best performance.”
His competitors certainly appreciated the show he put on. Greg Bretz even told White as much.
“He was proud of my run,” White said. “I feel humbled my peers are also into the stuff I’m doing.”
Almost as big of a topic as his electrifying performance was his shorter hair – a businessman’s trim to take care of business in the pipe.
White cut his long, flowing locks basically on a whim. People said he wouldn’t, so he did. He donated his curls to Locks of Love, a charity that provides hairpieces to children suffering from long-term medical issues.
“I just kind of needed a change,” White said as he ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m glad I did it. I feel like a whole new person.”