Above: Shaun White at the 2022 Laax Open (Photo: Marcel Lämmerhirt)
“Shaun White is bigger than snowboarding,” ran the Washington Post headline the last time the world was gearing up for the Winter Olympics. As a statement of fact, it was hard to argue with. After all, as the article put it, White was already “the CEO of a megabrand for whom snowboarding was only part of the portfolio”. But as a sentiment, it wasn’t difficult to see why it stuck in the craw for many snowboarders.
White was – and still is – the most famous rider in the world. But it’s long been argued that he’s a poor representative for the sport. Sure, by the time Pyeongchang rolled around, he’d ditched his band and cut out other distractions to concentrate on his riding. But his narrow, halfpipe-focussed approach (when have you ever seen Shaun shredding pow?), his open aversion to hanging out with fellow riders, and his ultra-competitive public persona still seemed to run counter to what snowboarding was all about. You didn’t have to scroll far down comment threads to find people saying that White wasn’t a real snowboarder at all.
“White was – and still is – the most famous rider in the world. But it’s long been argued that he’s a poor representative for the sport”
In the intervening four years, if anything, White’s celebrity has only grown, helped along by that third gold medal in Korea. And yet, the Shaun White who spent 20 minutes talking to Whitelines after the Laax Open last week didn’t fit any of the commonly-held stereotypes.
He’d just finished in third place behind the man most likely to beat him in Beijing, Ayumu Hirano – a result that would previously have disappointed him – but instead he seemed genuinely stoked, jumping up and down, hugging other riders warmly, and yelling “we’re going to China!” And then, as the TV cameras that would once have hung on his every word moved off to circle around his heir apparent, he gave a remarkably candid interview about his state of mind as he heads into a record-breaking fifth Olympics.
“And yet, the Shaun White who spent 20 minutes talking to Whitelines after the Laax Open last week didn’t fit any of the commonly-held stereotypes”