Vancouver Olympics

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Tara Walton/Canadian Press/AP

Vancouver Olympians: Snowboarder Shaun White

February 17, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Snowboarder Shaun White is known as much for his tricks as his endorsement deals. Will another Olympic gold in Vancouver quiet his critics?

White in Primetime

His red hair has earned him nicknames ranging from The Flying Tomato to Animal, but White’s next moniker could very well be Vancouver Olympic champion. On Wednesday night, the defending gold medalist from 2006 takes to the halfpipe in an event that has secured “a prime-time slot on North American television broadcasts,” Ian Walker reports for The Vancouver Sun. White is just 23, but his mastery of 22-foot halfpipe walls indicates maturity and focus beyond his years. 

Still Taking Risks

White was planning on taking a vacation in January but after he lost to Danny Davis, decided instead to learn a new trick. The Double McTwist 1260 is “incredibly difficult and dangerous,” according to Sports Illustrated. To compete the stunt, White “flips head over feet twice, while spinning 1260 degrees,” a complicated maneuver that he hopes will earn him a perfect score of 50 from Olympic judges. No one has ever received a 50, SI reports. 

White’s competitors haven’t had enough time to learn the Double McTwist 1260, which means the defending champion will largely be competing against himself. Davis is out for the season due to a four-wheeler accident, and another rival, Kevin Pearce, is still in the hospital after suffering a brain injury during practice in December. According to SI, teammate Louie Vito could be White’s biggest threat.

NBC Olympics has video footage of White completing a Double McTwist 1260. The New Yorker links to footage of White crashing and hitting his head during one recent attempt.

Is Shaun White a Sellout?

White’s lucrative endorsement deals and Olympic success have turned off some in the snowboard community. According to Jeff Passan, writing for Yahoo Sports, “the most hardcore snowboarders—the ones who consider the sport’s counterculture its lifeblood, hate the Olympics and loathe anything mainstream,” consider White a traitor.

But White maintains that everything he does stays true to the sport. He hired an agent because he hates being in offices and dealing with anything other than snowboarding and skateboarding, for example.

Furthermore, White accepted endorsement deals “without letting the corporate world change him,” and in the process might have influenced the way Olympic athletes market themselves, Passan suggests. White signed with Target because the company allows his brother, Jesse, to design the clothes. Red Bull created a halfpipe that is only accessible by helicopter, and features cushioned walls to ease falls, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Nonetheless, the endorsements and hefty paychecks amount to pressure. Should White fail to perform well at the Vancouver Olympics, he’ll likely keep his endorsements, but lose more respect from the snowboarding world. 

White’s Childhood

According to Yahoo, White began snowboarding when he was only 6 years old, following in the footsteps of big brother Jesse. The brothers rode differently, but White adopted both styles. Additionally, Shaun’s mother required the family to snowboard “with their opposite foot forward” so that she could keep up, which has made White a remarkably versatile athlete.

The family’s weekend trips to a California ski resort at Big Bear Lake allowed Shaun to spend full days on the mountain, riding the halfpipe and practicing jumps. They all slept in the family van at night.
White’s official Web site explains that he was born in 1986 in San Diego, and underwent “two major surgeries to correct a heart defect before he was a year old.” His rise from young snowboarding “prodigy” to Olympic qualifier is outlined.

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