Once the boy wonder of the action sports world, a wild child with flowing red hair past his shoulders, it’s a more grown up, button-downed and closely coiffured Shaun White preparing for his third Olympics.
White, 27, was among the world’s most famous snowboarders and skateboarders years before he could even vote. In adulthood, he’s become more than just an athlete. In Sochi he won’t be just the favorite to win yet another snowboarding halfpipe gold; he’ll also be Shaun White the musician, TV documentary star and entrepreneur.
“I wake up in the morning. I ride the halfpipe, I then jet over, I ride the slopestyle course and then I come home and I play the set (as guitarist for the band Bad Things) for when we have to go on tour,” White said recently, taking a break from it all to talk on the phone with a group of reporters. “So, I mean, my days are just packed. And we've been filming this NBC special called Russia Calling... But it's been grueling. It's been a long winter. I mean, I'm just so excited that we're coming to this point of I get to compete.”
This time around, after taking halfpipe gold in the past two Winter Games and seven straight Winter X Games before sitting out this year, it will truly be a competition for White, a pioneer on the halfpipe who will branch out into slopestyle, a new Olympic event.
“I would say more it’s difficult than the other times just because I'm doing double events. I mean, I got slopestyle and halfpipe and, you know, obviously halfpipe I'm going for the three-peat. But slopestyle is interesting because I've actually had to do a lot of catch-up work.”
Not that White is getting a free pass to the top of the podium for the halfpipe. Sweden’s Iouri Podladtchikov, popularly known as I-Pod, is the creator of the sport’s most cutting edge trick, the Yolo Flip. Fans in Sochi will be eager to see if White has mastered and/or topped the move which combines four full rotations with a pair of mid-air flips.
"Being in a position where I gave Shaun the idea of what comes next? I can't really find words for how precious that is to me," Podladtchikov told reporters at the X Games. "It's a very huge form of respect by him. That's what makes the journey and my career more beautiful.”
But faced with increased competition, an older, wiser White is taking a reasoned approach to the Games.
“Obviously winning medals is great and it's, you know, what we all go and strive for,” he said. “But, you know, just to be an Olympian is being a part of history, and I think that's the special thing about this competition -- you're really joining and becoming a part of something bigger than yourself.”