Shaun White, two-time Olympic halfpipe gold medallist in Turin and Vancouver, has today stunned the snowboarding world with the announcement that he will compete in both the snowboard AND skiing events in 2014.
White, fresh from wiping the floor with the competition at the X Games - first in Aspen, and more recently at the European X Games in Tignes, revealed his plans during an appearance on the Tonight Show on US cable network NBC. "I'm just always looking for new challenges," he told host Jay Leno. "I really love to compete and I just thought it'd be super fun to see if I could hold my own across two disciplines." He went on to reveal that he had already begun training on skis at a private facility in Colorado (which explains his lack of appearances on this year's TTR World Tour) and had enlisted renowned ski coach Michael 'P-Dawg' Taker to help with the transition. "It's gonna be tough cos there are a lot of sick skiers out there already," he admitted, "but the basics of riding a transition are the same and a lot of the tricks kinda transfer across aswell."
Shaun is of course no stranger to controversy, having ditched former sponsor Volcom for the Target supermarket chain, appeared in cheesy chewing gum commercials and even launched his own distribution company Shaun White Supply Co to sell - amongst other things - scooters. His habit of turning up at contests dressed like the missing member of White Snake has also divided opinion, yet this latest move is his boldest yet. Apart from anything else, snowboarding is currently embroiled in a bitter battle with the International Ski Federation (FIS) for control of Olympic qualification. As the most high-profile snowboarder in the world, White's silence on the issue - coupled with planting a foot in both camps - will only serve to muddy the issue further.
Nevertheless, there's a definite logic to the move. First up, it was clear from this performance in the slopestyle in Aspen that Shaun was going to struggle to achieve his initial aim of conquering both snowboard freestyle disciplines. A second medal in his favoured arena may prove more realistic, especially given this is the first year skiing halfpipe will be included - giving Shaun a huge advantage in terms of experience. Second, he's following in a grand tradition of multi-sport phenomenons: his namesake Shaun Palmer moved from being a 90's halfpipe hellraiser to boardercross champion, downhill mountain-bike star and even a world-class motocross rider - prompting USA Today to declare him "the world's greatest athlete." White, having mastered two sports already (he's won multiple X Games medals in the skate vert) would no doubt love a few headlines like that himself. And what odds on him coming up with a brand new skiing trick to complete the story? One thing's for sure: should he succeed in winning gold in Sochi in both skiing and snowboarding, he will make history. That, and the chance to cement his status as a global action sports icon, is all the motivation this supreme competitor needs.