In Torino, 2006, the star of an emerging, alternative sport connected with a young generation looking for new heroes. Four years on, and Shaun White is going for Olympic gold once again. In the last of our series of interviews we ask if he feels the weight of expectation, and if he's really ready to represent mainstream America...
You’ve been doing a lot of training and working on new tricks. How important is having the Olympics as a target?
As we get closer to it, it’s getting very important to me to win a second gold simply because I’ve worked very hard. I’ve can’t even count how many interviews I’ve done about it or how many times people have asked me about it. It’s definitely on the radar way more than it was before and it’s becoming something that I really want to do.
It’s been said that your desire to win is insatiable. Is that fair?
I definitely want to win but that doesn’t kick in until you put me at that halfpipe. The winning thing happens in the heat of competition; what I try to do is give myself the tools to be competitive, so right now I’m learning these tricks.
I’ve been to events unprepared and it’s the worst feeling ever. It’s just gut-wrenching when you stand back and think ‘there’s nothing I can do to beat this person, I have nothing in the bag’. I’ve vowed to never be there again.
In terms of pushing the training, someone I know reckons our sport is 70% mental and 30% physical. The mentality is definitely a big part of it. You have to be inspired. That’s why the Silverton halfpipe thing worked so well. It was training mixed with fun and being innovative. And having a big thing like the Olympics looming really pushed it on.
"To win a medal for myself and the U.S. would be awesome."
Does being an Olympian feel a bit more grown-up?
To win a medal for myself and the U.S. would be awesome. I’m far more proud to go and represent than I was before. It was only after [Torino] that I fully understood what it meant - to me, to my family, to people around me. It was a turning point for me.
All the business stuff that I had wanted to do became that much easier. Everything snowballed. So many people lose sight of what it was that put them in that position. I don’t think I’m the kind of the person to take my eye off the ball. I’m a snowboarder, that’s what I do. Yeah, I like making clothes and video games and whatever, but it’s the snowboarding that allows me to do that.
Does it feel different than your first Games?
Yes and no. As far as the mainstream of sports go, I wasn’t in the spotlight as much, but in our sport, I was the guy, undefeated all the way up to it. If there’s an increase in pressure now, it’s fine. To be honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in that position. I don’t ever remember being at a competition and not being one of the guys to beat, so I don’t feel that there’s more of burden now.
It must be a weird feeling for guys like you at the Olympics, though. Isn’t the vibe out of your comfort zone?
I kind of freaked out at the last one. The other [US Team] riders were more into hip hop, and wore all those baggier clothes. I wasn’t paying attention, there were all these cameras and people asking questions while I was getting my gear and I just didn’t think about it. ‘Yeah, sure, give me a medium,’ I said. ‘I’ll take a large, whatever.’ And then I had to throw on all these monstrously baggy clothes, and I looked kinda… silly. And I know it’s wrong but I just felt completely out of my element. And I’m part of this team. It was weird.
And there’s a certain code of behavior. You definitely don’t want to be cruising around pulling pranks and stuff. You know the media was talking about us partying all the time, but in fact, our event was one of the first to go down, so everybody was really gripped and it didn’t happen.
But with all your training, you must feel confident.
Obviously you can’t control everything and it’s a judged event. You just have to do it. I’m just excited about it. It’s nice to have something that big coming along and to have five brand-new tricks that I’ve never done before in my pocket and, yes, feeling strong and confident.
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