Olympian White on board for a fresh challenge

Jul 30 2010 - 5:24pm

Images

(Reed Saxon/The Associated Press)
Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White, practices for the Skateboard Men's Vert competition at the X Games at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in 2007.
(Reed Saxon/The Associated Press)
Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White, practices for the Skateboard Men's Vert competition at the X Games at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in 2007.

LOS ANGELES -- It was just a matter of time before the conversation wound around to Winston Churchill.

Two questions, really.

That's the charm of interviewing snowboarding and skateboarding star Shaun White. You can design a well-thought-out plan of chatter, but that would be predictable and boring, two words not belonging in any sentence with White's name. Option two: Let White seize the conversation and run with it, taking the talk where it needs to go.

This onramp led to Churchill when talk moved to the inevitable hangover facing almost all athletes after a hugely successful turn -- and in this case, a double McTwist 1260 by White in Vancouver, Canada -- and resulting in a gold medal for the snowboarder in the halfpipe at the Olympics.

"It's crazy," White said. "A friend of mine was talking about how Winston Churchill would come out of battles and wouldn't know what to do with himself.

"You know what I mean? It's one of those things where you put everything on the table and you really focus on one thing and you clear that hurdle."

Sadly, world domination never had such a short shelf life.

"You're thrust into these interviews: What's the next big trick?" White said. "Like, I have no motivation to do anything awesome right now. But that's why skateboarding is so cool. It's a total change of gears."

Different tricks, different competitors and being able to come in from the cold have prevented it from all getting too old too fast for White, who turns 24 in September. The mountain is fine and all, but there will be new heights for White to conquer at the X Games in downtown L.A.

"This has been the biggest thing that's kept me going in the sport," White said of the snowboarding-skateboarding balancing act. "It makes everything fresh again. Otherwise I'd be another guy standing on the mountain waiting for it to snow again."

He will be competing in two X Games events, skateboard vert and skateboard vert best trick, both Friday at Nokia Theatre.

White's preparation was curtailed when he twisted his ankle in mid-May while skating at a park in Venice. Luckily he had other projects to occupy his time, namely a skateboarding video game by Ubisoft that has essentially been in the works for the last three years.

The injury lingered for about a month and White was able to get back on the skateboard only in the last few weeks

"It's brutal," he said. "I was told it's almost better to break your ankle."

White laughed and added, "I question whoever told me that."

The injury came at the end of a long session in Venice with his buddies. Just as White was urging a wrap, someone suggested one last run. Famous last words before many an injury.

"It's like the forbidden thing to be like, oh, last run," he said. "I've basically gotten everything back. I'm breaking even just before the event here. I'm hoping to put on a good show, but then best trick would definitely be winging it."

Most recollections of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver hit upon two transcendent moments -- the gold-medal men's hockey game between Canada and the United States and White's near-flawless second halfpipe run. White not only captured gold but helped NBC do the same, more or less, delivering a ratings bonanza that night.

Which raises the question: Couldn't skateboarding hit the same note at the Summer Olympics?

"I'm surprised skateboarding is not in already," White said. "I'm sure it'll be on its way. All the skateboard athletes wanted to know what the Olympics were like: 'What are we up against? What's going on?' So that was pretty cool. I was in the dad pants, telling them what it was like."

Just as long as the dad pants were hip.

Still, trend-setting extends only so far. White won't mess with his famous calling card -- his long, flowing red hair.

Knowing this, he had some fun through social networking. White's fans freaked out in June when he posted a picture on Facebook, showing him, while in New York, peering into a shop window: "All Haircuts $5.00."

"I really thought about it," he said. "It's one of those things -- if I get it cut a little bit, I feel like something is missing. Your head is lighter. Everything is different. I'm sure at some point I'll probably chop it in a crazy way and let it grow back."

Not anytime soon, though. But White bowed to pressure from family and friends and cut about an inch off before the recent ESPYs.

"It was an intervention," White said, laughing.

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