He’s a two-time Olympic half pipe gold medalist. He’s earned 14 gold medals at the X Games, and he’s the only athlete to score a perfect 100 at the event. At just 27 years old, Shaun White has already accumulated some pretty impressive hardware.
The Winter Games in Sochi are the first in which White could compete in both half pipe and slopestyle, an event in which snowboarders perform a variety of tricks while making the highest jumps possible on a long, winding course. But White announced yesterday that he is pulling out of the slopestyle competition due to worries about the safety of the course, something other riders have also voiced concerns about.
White will still compete in the half pipe, and he is as focused as ever. He even backed out of the 2014 X Games in Aspen last month to prepare for the competition in Russia. STACK caught up with White to discuss getting older, how his training has evolved and whether he feels hunted by the rest of the pack.
STACK: You’ve been at this a long time. Are you starting to feel old as a competitor?
White: I really don’t. As far as competing goes, I never really realized I was getting older until I did a run and the announcer at the bottom said you’re the oldest competitor today. (Laughing.) I don’t really feel any different. I do find that I approach the competition differently and practice differently. With age, I’ve been able to learn a lot more about myself and how I get things done and what my body needs to recover. That’s what I’m carrying with me that the other guys might not have. I have the experience. I know what goes on and the nerves and the excitement and all that.
You talk about knowing yourself and your body better as you’ve grown older. Have you changed any aspects of your training as a result?
White: I used to go ride and then I would get a massage afterward and take the next day off. But by the next day I would be ready to go. For some reason, the toll it takes to ride all day long, it leaves me really worked for the next day. I’ve had to change the strategy to give myself more time to recover. I used to go up and ride all day long. I just don’t do it anymore. I show up and I do a couple runs, and I know that’s the best I’m going to be for the day, so I stop. I ride for two hours and I leave. That’s why you see me do so many other things off the hill. Also, I’ve always done this, but I read an interview where Andre Agassi said he never stretches before events, so I just don’t stretch. I never stretch before my events.
You’ve made innovative use of skateboarding to train for your snowboarding events. Have others copied you?
White: That’s what I’ve heard, that a lot of the guys use skateboarding vert ramps to stay fit in the summer time. Skating keeps you so fit, because you use your legs to get momentum on the ramp. [Snowboarding] in general, people are becoming savvy to the fact that there is a proper way to train for this sport physically and mentally. People are stepping it up.
This is the first time slopestyle snowboarding is an Olympic event. Does that give you extra motivation to bring home the gold?
White (prior to his decision to skip the event): It’s hard for me to think about anything else. I don’t know the last competition where I wasn’t trying to win. I would love to go and compete in the Olympics and put down a great run and hopefully do well in that event. It’s exciting because in 2009, I stopped hitting jumps in order to get ready for the 2010 Olympics. I basically retired from that discipline for two years. I had to learn these new tricks. Right as I completed that goal and won in Europe, the sport took another turn, and people were doing triple flips. So I had to adjust again. It’s been a challenge and an amazing thing for me to switch back and forth, but I think it’s helped my half pipe riding. When one gets frustrating I switch and walk away. That’s kind of how it’s been going.
Do you feel hunted out there, like everyone is out to strip you of your crown?
White: I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t feel hunted. Ever since I was a kid, I was someone to beat at the competition. For me, that was always something that inspired me. I knew that they were looking at me and I was looking toward them and knew that would help me progress in the sport and learn new tricks. This time around, it’s not too much different, just a new group of people.