Shaun White was unquestionably the outstanding snowboarder of Vancouver 2010, and arguably the standout performer across any of the disciplines. Known as “The Flying Tomato”, the red-headed American dominated the half-pipe contest, performing tricks and reaching heights beyond the rest of the field. What made White’s prowess all the more remarkable was the fact that he was born with a congenital heart defect that required two bouts of open-heart surgery before he was even a year old.
After winning gold at Turin 2006, White was the overwhelming favourite to retain his Olympic crown. Since then he had won a hatful of titles, released his own video game, put in a number of TV appearances and had established himself as one of winter sport’s true global stars. He even became probably the only snowboarder in history to have his own half-pipe built to perfect his routines, and released a popular video game based on his extensive repertoire of tricks.
His performances in the X Games were consistently excellent and in 2009 he won the World Cup half-pipe event staged in Vancouver, laying down a marker for the following year’s Winter Olympics. He also won a series of skateboarding titles, confirming his status as a boarding expert both on and off the snow. He nevertheless proved he was fallible by injuring himself shortly before the Games, hitting his chin on the edge of a pipe.
White opened up his Olympic challenge with a score of 46.8, matching the record he had set in Turin four years before and putting him so far ahead that the gold medal was already assured. Though he could have been excused for playing it safe in his second run, he conjured up an even more extreme trick, a double McTwist 1260, which he named “The Tomahawk”. Acclaimed as one of the greatest ever seen in top-level competition, it earned him a near-perfect 48.4 points and gave him gold by a distance.