From Turin to PyeongChang for a triple Olympic legend
A snowboard halfpipe superstar who became Olympic champion for the first time aged 19 and for the third time aged 31, Shaun White is the icon of his sport, in which he has continually pushed the boundaries. As a result, over the past 15 years or so he has built up an enviable and unrivalled list of achievements. And who knows, perhaps we will see him at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, competing in his other sport, skateboarding!
A hard-won place at PyeongChang 2018
On the morning of 14 February 2018, Shaun White posted a photo of himself on Instagram in full flight with this comment: "So happy to qualify first into finals. The level of riding today was incredible. Tomorrow is the moment I have been looking forward to for 4 years... Let's do this.”
In fact, he qualified for the PyeongChang Games at the very last moment. At the World Cup in Snowmass barely a month earlier, Shaun waited until his final run to bring out the enormous tricks that would score him a memorable 100 points and secure him a ticket to his fourth Olympic Winter Games. His preparation had been disrupted by a fall in training in October 2017, after which he needed 62 stiches. Fourth at Sochi 2014, a result which he has never been able to swallow, the 31-year-old American is a true legend of his discipline. He showed the world why in front of a large crowd at the Phoenix Snowpark by clinching a last-minute but convincing victory in the snowboard halfpipe final.
Shaun adds to his legend at the Phoenix Snowpark
When he dropped in for his third run of the final, the 2006 and 2010 Olympic champion was in second place behind the young Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano, who had set the bar very high with a score of 95.25, a score that was all the more impressive given the very strong winds hitting the halfpipe at that time. Having recorded a 94.25 for his first run, then fallen in his second, the American still had it all to prove.
But Shaun, aka the “Flying Tomato”, took every risk, putting down back-to-back double cork 1440s before bringing out his “special”, a double McTwist or “Tomahawk”, and finishing with a double cork 1260 in a battle for the gold. Getting more air than ever, he put all his difficulties aside and delivered a completely seamless run. The judges rewarded him with the best score of the day – 97.75. And Shaun White became a triple Olympic champion in his discipline.
Despite the countless successes that have punctuated his exceptional career, Shaun was overcome with joy. After throwing his board in the air, he fell to his knees and burst into tears. Tears that continued to flow as he hugged his mother, Cathy White, shortly after.
A young champion
Shaun started snowboarding at the age of six, wanting to copy his older brother. After several falls, the young rider very quickly mastered the difficulties of the sport and participated in his first amateur events barely a year later. After winning every competition he entered, at age 13 he became one of the youngest sportspeople ever to sign with a major brand, which kitted him out and turned him into a professional. Therefore, when he arrived at his first Olympic Winter Games in Turin in 2006, aged 19, he already had six Winter X Games titles to his name, acquired in halfpipe and slopestyle from 2003.
First Olympic title at age 19
The Olympic Games were therefore the only event missing from his already very long list of achievements. And Shaun was determined not to miss his shot at an Olympic victory. The halfpipe competition took place on 12 February 2006 in Bardonecchia. After a minor fall in his first qualifying run, Shaun needed to put down a big second run to secure a place in the final. He got there by finishing the elimination round in seventh place. In his first run of the final, he linked a backside-air, 1080 and haakon flip to obtain the impressive score of 46.8 out of a possible 50, and was in first place going into the second run. When he dropped in for the second time, no one had beaten his score; he was already Olympic champion and treated the crowd to a stunning run, with plenty of amplitude and style. On the podium he was joined by his team-mate Daniel Kass in silver-medal place (repeating his result from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games), and the reigning world champion, Finland's Markku Koski, in bronze. At the age of 20, with the title of Olympic champion, Shaun White definitively entered the pantheon of snowboarding legends.
A second title at Vancouver 2010 won in exquisite style
A versatile athlete, Shaun also excels in skateboarding, in the discipline known as “vert” (short for “vertical”), which also includes the halfpipe. At the Summer X Games, he won the vert title for the first time in 2007, after taking silver in 2005 and before winning bronze in 2008. Meanwhile, Shaun continued to add to his haul in snowboarding halfpipe and slopestyle at the Winter X Games: he won four more gold medals in 2008, 2009 and 2010, before going on to defend his Olympic title at Vancouver 2010. The best and most spectacular halfpipe snowboarder in the world would again prove worthy of his accolades in front of the crowds at Cypress Mountain on 17 February 2010. His first run in his second Olympic final, which earned him a score of 46.8 points (four whole points over the second-placed rider), was already evidence enough. Once again, no one could improve on his score, leaving Shaun to reach the stars in his second run, full of technique and amplitude, featuring a stupefying double McTwist 1260, which he nicknamed the Tomahawk. The judges awarded him a record score of 48.4 points. Shaun, triumphant, had become a two-time Olympic champion.
Disappointment in Sochi before a roaring return
Shaun took gold again at the X Games in Aspen in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to enter the record books; with his 13 victories, he became the athlete with the most X Games titles of all time (to which another gold medal in vert from the 2011 Summer X Games in Los Angeles can be added). As such, he was the overwhelming favourite to take his third Olympic gold medal at Sochi 2014. But at Rosa Khutor, on 11 February 2014, he failed to put down a clean run on either his first or second attempts and finished fourth in a competition won by Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov. In early 2017, Shaun revealed that he had never recovered from this result and that redeeming this loss at the PyeongChang 2018 Games was his reason for returning to the competition circuit: "I am preparing new tricks, I feel stronger and more focused than ever." What happened next belongs to the Winter Games history books.
Shaun White, the first ever three-time Olympic snowboarding champion, is the icon of his sport, and his ambition is now to return to the Summer Games in 2020 on his skateboard. And who knows, maybe even try to defend his title in Beijing in 2022, where he will be “just” 35. It is well known that legends never die after all...