When we spoke with iconic snowboarder Shaun White on a conference call in late January about his upcoming trip to the Winter Olympics, he was feeling very positive about what lay ahead. Despite all the speculation that the Sochi games might be unusually dangerous, the two-time Olympic gold medalist seemed undaunted, “I can't remember when there wasn't some sort of threat or some scare or something to be worried about. And I've never felt more secure.”
While athletes are being warned not to wear their U.S. uniforms or leave the safety of the competitors compound, White seemed to believe that everything is under control. “They really take care of the athletes and the staff and the people around and [do] checks and searches and all sorts of stuff. The Olympic Village is one of the hardest places to get into,” White acknowledged. “I'm bringing my whole family if that says anything. I feel very confident that we're going to be well looked after.”
Although he obviously wasn’t concerned about terrorist threats, a new issue put a snag in White’s Sochi plans. Just a few days before the Opening Ceremonies, the 27-year-old athlete decided the slopestyle course might be where the center of possible peril in Russia. Citing the potential risk of injury, White dropped out of the new event on Wednesday.
As he explained on his Facebook page, “After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA. I know my fans will have my back on this difficult decision. Thanks for the continued support.”
One has to wonder how severe the 10-time ESPY award winner’s concerns about the course were. After all, this is a guy who first strapped on a board when he was six years old and spends his days hurling himself into the air doing death-defying stunts without hesitation. He recalled those early days on the slopes, saying, “Ever since I was six years old I learned how to do a 180 which is degrees of rotation so 180 degrees, half a circle. And then I was like, ‘Man, what if I tried a 360?’ And so I learned that.”
White has never stopped pushing himself. Talking about what it was like to try a new move for the first time, he recounted, “I did one today. It was intense. It was rewarding. It was something where I was nervous going into it. I was slightly hesitant, yet I focused my mind and made the decision that I was going to do the trick and I was going to fully believe and put everything I had into it and hope for the best outcome. And it went well. It went well.”
But White also knows that every time he goes just a little bit further, there’s an inherent danger. “Sometimes it doesn't [go well] but then you get up… You learned a very important lesson of what not to do and then you try again,” White conceded. “I heard someone relate it to mathematics, which really made sense to me because you sit and you have a math problem in front of you and you try different solutions and possible outcomes and finally one works and you get the right answer.”
He continued, “That's truly what it's like to learn trick snowboarding. You make subtle adjustments, different tweaks, watch a video of you doing it, study it and you slowly learn the new trick. But it's rewarding. You feel better about your day. It’s very rewarding to do new tricks and then to take it to a contest and do it in front of people and win awards.”
No doubts Shaun White will be winning another award next week. For details on how to catch the action, check out the Sochi TV schedule on the official NBC Olympics website.