Shaun White has won halfpipe gold at the Olympics twice, and he’s going for the three-peat in Sochi.
The 27-year old is one of the most charismatic athletes in the world, and even graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Twice. Yes, he’s the top athlete of his sport, halfpipe snowboarding. And he’s a crossover athlete who has also won gold at X Games in Vert skating (not an Olympic sport). However, it’s what he’s been able to do outside of his sport with his fame that is impressive.
Athletes at the Olympics don’t get a prize purse for competing, but they get something better, worldwide recognition. Some athletes aren’t able to parlay that Olympic fame into cold hard cash. Take Gabby Douglas, two time gold medal gymnast (2012), whose family filed for bankruptcy around the time she was winning those medals. According to a report produced by the USA Track and Field Foundation, athletes outside of the top 10 in their respective events make less than $15,000 per year (PolicyMic.com).
Shaun White was already a star before he went to his first Olympics (and won) in 2006, and he has been able to take that gold and run with it. However, in the beginning, it wasn’t so easy.
At age 5, doctors discovered a condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, a series of heart malformations. He underwent two surgeries to repair his damaged heart.
He started snowboarding shortly after that surgery, his family driving by car from their home in San Diego, CA to Mt. Hood, OR and Whistler, BC, CAN so their three kids could snowboard and skateboard at different camps and parks. Obviously, it was the dedication of his family that helped Shaun get where he is today, which is not only at the top of his sport, but also at the top of the financial status. He’s a 1%-er.
He was ranked #10 for sports brands (Forbes), even before he won his second gold medal at the Olympics in 2010, earning a reported $8M in 2008, mostly from lucrative sponsorship endorsements. After that second gold medal, he skyrocketed from no. 51 to no. 2 on Bloombergs annual list of most influential athletes (Forbes, 2013).
Endorsements help, but he is also in full control of every aspect of his career and life. He’s the CEO of his company, Shaun White Enterprises. If he doesn’t want a photo taken during a private session, he has people who tell the photographer to delete it or leave.
He has a kids clothing line with Target, which he helps design, along with a home accessories collection. He’s got a skateboarding line, Shaun White Supply Company, and a dog, Rambo (mayorB.com) who has about as many followers as Shaun on Facebook.
So how does a snowboarder stay true to the sport and be a multimillionaire? He really doesn’t. He only snowboards a few days a year, usually in his own private park, and he raises eyebrows when he shows up for events decked out in tight black pants and a leather jacket.
Outside of the industry, however, he is the cool, successful guy. He’s the lead guitarist in the rock band “Bad Things,” he’s dressed for success in suits on the red carpet, where he shows up with A-list movie stars, and he cut off his long red locks to become a dapper man about town, living in New York LA, or Malibu, whatever fills his fancy.
Shaun has even taken his style to the big screen, starring in “Friends with Benefits” (as himself) in fall 2011. He’s since moved on to the roll of Executive Producer, with Ashley Tisdale, for the Disney original movie: "Cloud 9" about the world of competitive snowboarding. Just before the 2014 Olympics, he released "Shaun White: Russia Calling," which he also executive produced.
Shaun White has taken his name from a somewhat small, niche sport to the mainstream in a highly executed fashion, much in the same way he snowboards. Everything has a purpose, or is the means to an end.
Outside of his Olympic gold, he is a superstar at the most prominent event in his sport, X Games. He has 15 gold medals, spanning three disciplines and two sports (Slopestyle, SuperPipe and Vert skating). Since winning his 2006 gold, he’s only been beaten by a few riders, including Greg Bretz and Danny Davis, both USA teammates at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Watch Shaun defend his gold at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi starting on Tuesday, Feb. 11 on NBC. (Olympic halfpipe schedule available on Transworld Snowboarding).