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With Shaun White, it's me first

Posted by Dan Egan  February 6, 2014 12:51 AM

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Snowboarder Shaun White likes to win, and not just in the halfpipe.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist is one of the highest-paid athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics. He has clout. His sponsors are many and they are big. He has leverage. White is an international brand involved with many enterprises, from chewing gum to video games. He has star power.

So there was much debate over White's withdrawal from the first Olympics slopestyle event on Wednesday, a decision that was criticized by some of his peers and had many wondering about his motives.

But it's not surprising. A look at some of the moments throughout White's career show how driven he is to be successful while also illustrating he's not necessarily best buds with the rest of the snowboarding set. They also help explain why he would make the call he did on Wednesday.

White is not your run-of-the-mill Olympian who is hoping for a gold medal. He grants interviews to the likes of Larry King and Maxim. He has an agent, a stylist, and a manager, so when it came to his announcement that he was pulling out of the first Olympic slopestyle event, he revealed the news in the friendly environment on the NBC Today’s show with Matt Lauer.

He cited concern over the course.

White achieved worldwide mega-star status through skill in and out of the halfpipe. White is not the first athlete to use the Olympics to launch a successful brand and career, but he might be the best at it. He has transcended the snowboarding world and lives the life of a star.

He has only had minor scrapes in public, a drunk and disorderly and vandalism incident where he trashed a hotel room in Nashville, Tenn. But hey, he is a snowboarder with a lawyer, so the penalty was minor and he apologized. If he wins in Sochi in the halfpipe, he has a shot of becoming one the most successful Olympians of his generation, both athletically and financially.

White is a driven competitor. In the buildup to the 2010 Winter Games, he had his own private halfpipe built in a very out-of-the-way location in Silverton, Colo., and he and only he was allowed to train there.

The recent HBO Documentary "The Crash Reel" is the story of snowboarder Kevin Pierce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while training for the 20010 Olympics and was White’s number one competitor going into those Olympic Games. Pierce tells a tale about rooming with White, and after Pierce beat White in a competition, White had all of Pierce's belonging set outside on the sidewalk.

The film also highlights the differences between White and the rest of his competitors. They see themselves as snowboarders, he see himself as a lone wolf and a brand.

That difference was evident Wednesday at the Olympic Media Center during a press conference held by the US ski and snowboard team with the US halfpipe squad. Olympian Danny Davis who tends to focus more on the soul of snowboarding and was a training partner with Pierce for the Vancouver Olympics, bragged about how he hasn’t trained yet here in Sochi because, “he has been having some sweet powder runs.”

In comparison, White said, “as you get older, you take things more seriously, so yes, I am taking this more seriously now than when I younger.”

White takes it so seriously in fact that his stage is NBC, not the US snowboard team. Specific questions about the safety of the slopestyle course were stifled by the press manager of the snowboard team during the conference. Nick Alexakos sternly requested that the press corps “please keep the questions focused on halfpipe.”

During the exchange, White revealed his true focus.

"I’ve trained the same for both competitions, definitely the halfpipe carries more weight because its a defending situation. I feel there is more pressure," he said.

In a later question concerning the time conflict between competing in both events, White was asked how was he going to manage training for the halfpipe when the first day of training was the day the slopestyle ended. White said he might have to skip the training and try and make it up.

Hours later he announced via NBC he was pulling out of the slopestyle.

White isn’t the first Olympian to calculate his performance and manage the number of events to participate in at the Olympics. It happens in both the Summer and Olympic Games. He is also not the first Olympic athlete to bring a bit of drama before the media.

On Wednesday, he was asked at the press conference about his career and he started the answer with “My whole life has been setbacks and overcoming them. I missed out on the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake when I was 15, and that made me stronger as an athlete and I came back and won the gold in 2006.”

At 27 he knows time is limited and his best shot at history to win three Olympic gold medals in one event is now. Halfpipe is his bread and butter, this is where he launched his fame from the stage of the X Games and this is where he will potentially make his final stand for his Olympic career. His strategy has worked thus far, why stop now..

When asked about his new hairstyle Wednesday, and what happened to the long red hair that earned him the nickname "The Flying Tomato," White said, “I basically did it because people said I couldn’t.”

White pulling out of the slopestyle is just one more example of that attitude that has placed him on top of the Olympics stage.

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6 comments so far...
  1. Curious - why didn't you mention the amount of comments the course has gotten from multiple compeitors?

    Posted by dthomas February 7, 14 01:26 AM
  1. I watched "The Crash Reel" (any one who loves sports should watch this documentary) and got a good look at how White operates. He for sure is not a team player.
    But having played on many teams myself and also in "solo" sports, I have seen that the ability to win takes many forms and each person has their own inner reasons that make them a winner...or not.

    And do you participate in sports to win, correct?

    And when the stakes are really high, if you do want to win, you must be 100% focused on what gets you there.

    So for Shaun White, I hate his selfishness and dislike him for not being a team player. I used to love him but now I am very turned off to who he really is. BUT I do think he is a winner and I think he knows how to win.

    And the goal for the USA is another gold medal from Shaun White, correct?

    Posted by Alison Greene February 7, 14 08:03 AM
  1. Kinda lame that someone isn't getting to compete in slopestyle because White took that spot and is now bailing.

    Posted by JB February 7, 14 09:37 AM
  1. This article couldn't be any stupider. It's basically stating that "In an individual sport, Shaun White is more of an individual." WHAT? Who cares if he has a stylist and a manager and all of that? Seriously. Like all the other competitors wouldn't if they could? THey wouldn't take all the endorsements and money and fame? Come on.

    The idea that snowboarding is even a "sport" is laughable. (Ex. "Look Jerry, Shaun is going to do the flippy thing with the axle grinder trick where he grabs the board. This is what separates him from everyone else!" Please!). But just accepting this idea-it's still an INDIVIDUAL sport. You wouldn't blame a boxer for doing what's in the best interest of himself. But somehow this comes off as a hit piece on a guy who is doing just that.

    This is why no one looks at snowboarding as anything other than the X games, part 2. That's not taken seriously and neither is this. And when you have hit pieces on a guy that's not doing anything else anyone else wouldn't do in an individual sport, then no one will ever take this "sport" seriously.

    Posted by John February 7, 14 10:25 AM
  1. Paragraph 10 refers to an unfortunate accident for Kevin Pierce training for the the 20010 Olympics. I'm thinking that the Sochi hotels will be up to speed by then -- But you may want to fix that...

    Posted by Sherri February 7, 14 10:46 AM
  1. Paragraph 10 refers to an unfortunate accident for Kevin Pierce training for the the 20010 Olympics. I'm thinking that the Sochi hotels will be up to speed by then -- But you may want to fix that...

    Posted by Sherri February 7, 14 10:50 AM

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