Team USA at Sochi: Your Cheat Sheet to Shaun White

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Photo courtesy of rexxgon, licensed through Flickr via Creative Commons.

Source: rexxgon / Flickr

Shaun White’s initial foray into the public sphere did not end well. It was 1997, it was on MTV, and it ended with a fractured skull, broken hand, broken foot, and a knock out. He was 11 years old, a skateboarding and snowboarding child prodigy/novelty with some very smooth style, some very red hair, and a massive helmet. Before anything else, we should probably thank Shaun for that.

Nowadays it’s hard to get away from White, who has his face plastered on gum packages, video games, and anywhere snowboarding pops up in the mainstream. Within snowboarding culture, he has become nearly synonymous as “The Other,” someone who snowboards but clearly isn’t a snowboarder. For the large group of people who take riding to be more of a lifestyle decision than a sport, he’s persona non grata.

After his announcement on Wednesday that he’d be bailing on the slopestyle Winter Olympics event to focus on the halfpipe contest, a whole new avalanche of criticism was launched toward White. Some lamented the fact that another competitor — there were only three spots available on the U.S. Slopestyle team — was sitting on the couch back in the states, unable to compete while White decided he’d rather not ride after all. Others, including international slopestyle riders, declared him “scared to ride” and unwilling to enter a competition that he wouldn’t win.

There’s some merit to that idea, insofar as White’s halfpipe riding is leaps and bounds ahead of his rail game, and slopestyle is a contest comprised of rail tricks and jumps. According to the man himself, the biggest reason to ride halfpipe is the increased visibility. In that same interview with Snowboarder, White celebrates the fact that he’s just not on the same page as many other snowboarders, dismissing the idea of “core” riders as silly. In short, there’s a lot to unpack about Shaun White, and we’ll break down what makes him so important to snowboarding, in spite of himself.

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