LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Shaun White has concocted an elaborate skateboarding trick he’s hoping to debut at the X Games this weekend. Only problem is, he’s never actually landed it yet.
The two-time Olympic snowboarding gold medallist is hardly concerned. His short lifetime as a unique multisport athlete has taught him that the rush of competition will push him to heights he can’t reach on his own.
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“I would prefer to not be in this scenario, but it’s kind of how it works for me,” White said. “You need the fire under you. Two days after I lost an Olympic qualifier, I learned the McTwist 1260. Now I want this trick. It takes pressure sometimes.”
More than a decade after he turned pro in snowboarding, White is thriving in a remarkable career spanning sports and entertainment. He’s trying out acting and racing cars, and he’s fascinated by the creative applications of social media.
But White also realizes he faces 2 1/2 years of hard work to compete at the 2014 Games in both halfpipe and slopestyle, which was added to the Olympic program last month. During a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, White confirmed his plans to participate in both disciplines in Sochi.
“To go to the Olympics and have two shots at a gold medal would be unreal,” White said, stroking the tentative beginnings of an orange moustache. “Maybe only two or three other guys can do that. I was really excited, and then it hit me where I just took a minute and (thought), ‘OK, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ It was really cool, yet it’s like when you go on a hike and you’re standing at the bottom of the mountain. All right, here we go!
“I’ve got to eat this whole elephant? All right, one piece at a time.”
The 24-year-old White is uniquely suited for the challenge. Not many athletes have ever been better multitaskers than the erstwhile Flying Tomato, who has outgrown his teenage nickname while rounding into a dominant two-sport athlete with a bulging list of off-the-board commitments.
For now, White’s focus is on his vert showdown with Pierre-Luc Gagnon at the X Games on Saturday. White’s Canadian rival beat him last year for an unprecedented vert threepeat at the X Games, and their latest meeting is likely to be a highlight of the 17th edition of ESPN’s action-sports showcase, which opened Thursday in downtown Los Angeles.
White also draws motivation from a disappointing third-place finish last weekend on the Dew Tour’s stop in Ocean City, Md. He lost to 38-year-old Bucky Lasek, which thoroughly amused Jay Leno during White’s stop in Burbank at “The Tonight Show” on Tuesday.
White has been a Hollywood favourite from the moment he soared above the Turin halfpipe with his unruly red hair askew, but he’s moving closer to a true crossover career. He emerged from his two-scene role in “Friends With Benefits,” the new film starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, with new respect for actors.
Although White plays himself, he goes for laughs as an arrogant boor – and it wasn’t as easy as White expected.
“I only had a couple of lines, but just to get those right, I was blown away by how much goes into it, stuff I never realized,” White said. “I’d love to do more, especially on the back end of things. I’ll probably end up producing or something like that. I could give so much insight on this sport and the other side of this culture, and people are so curious about the youth of right now.”
They’re so curious that they’ll even watch a short video of White simply walking to a halfpipe millions of times on his Facebook page. White calls it “the backstage, ‘Spinal Tap’ walk,” and he loves the idea of communicating directly with fans through short, funny videos.
Much of White’s life these days is about time management, since he can’t waste a day in his semiannual transition between sports. He doesn’t do much skateboarding during snowboarding season, which means each spring is torture.
“It’s really terrible,” White said. “It’s like having to re-learn every single trick. I lose the feeling of what it’s like to be on my skateboard. It’s a real pain. My first comeback to the sport, I try to do my training in private because I’m so embarrassed. There’s these eight-year-olds at the skate park: ‘Stick to snowboarding!’
“Every year I’m wondering if this is going to be the year I can’t do the tricks I want to do. Coming back to snowboarding is easier for some reason. You’re strapped in. You can take these long runs. It’s a totally different ballpark. I think that’s been my greatest challenge, to maintain that level without being a full year-round athlete in that sport.”
White has been practising at his home in Carlsbad, Calif., just north of his native San Diego, on a portable ramp borrowed from Tony Hawk. He recently posted a film montage – of his falls.
“I was destroying myself, crash after crash after crash,” White said. “We wanted people to see that it’s something that doesn’t just happen overnight. It happens over time, and I really put in the work.”
White is eager to renew his friendly rivalry with Gagnon. While White attracts most of the sport’s attention with his international celebrity, Gagnon spent the past year on a VH-1 reality show and in the gym, taking boxing classes and improving his overall athleticism.
“There’s a lot of pressure this year, because that guy is so good out there,” Gagnon said of White. “He’s making me step up my game every year, and hopefully vice versa.”
White said he relishes the competition with Gagnon because “it’s something that I don’t really have in the snowboarding world.”
Life rarely slows down for White, who hopes to do more acting and recently got into surfing. He landed an endorsement deal on a Whitemint flavour of Stride gum – “We sat in a room for like three hours, just chewing different gums” – and he’s formulating plans for a major party for his 25th birthday on Sept. 3.
“I love that I don’t know what’s coming,” White said. “Who really knows what’s going to get thrown at us next?”