James white hot on board
It was a tall order but Aussie broke the mould
THE snowboard was originally given to Scotty James as a deterrent.
“The story that my mum tells is that I wouldn’t quite cooperate with ski school,” James explains.
“I was quite adventurous and would ski off on my own and wouldn’t keep with the class because it was boring.
“They thought the solution would be: ‘Let’s put him on a snowboard and that will put him on his a*** so he won’t be out of our sight.’ I think that worked for about five or six months until I figured it out.”
That little kid from Warrandyte on the slopes of Falls Creek certainly figured out the snowboard and, by the time he was 15, James was representing Australia at the Winter Olympics.
Now 23, he’s at his third Olympics and last night carried the Australian flag at the PyeongChang opening ceremony.
James is the half-pipe world champion, a multi-millionaire and a seriously big deal in the US, although NBA star Ben Simmons may have recently surpassed him as Australia’s most popular athlete there.
And by the middle of next week, there’s a good chance he’ll be an Olympic champion.
The first thing people notice about James is his height. It’s assumed that flying around in mid-air doing jaw-dropping twists and turns is more suited to those small in stature.
Generally that’s correct – the sport’s guru, American two-time Olympic champion Shaun White, is 175cm – but James is 190cm.
“It is definitely a bit unorthodox for someone like myself to be tall and be doing the tricks I do,” James says.
“But I have kind of used it as an advantage for me really.
“It’s an opportunity to carry speed, to get higher amplitude and I’ve heard it a couple of times now that taller guys make it look better.
“I think when I was a little bit younger and going through my growth spurt, I would listen a little bit more and think being tall wasn’t the way.
“But I think I have broken that mould and shown the world, as well as other kids, or anyone else who is struggling with the same thing, that anything is possible.”
IT IS DEFINITELY A BIT UNORTHODOX FOR SOMEONE LIKE MYSELF TO BE TALL AND BE DOING THE TRICKS I DO
For a long time James just soaked up the lifestyle of travelling the world doing his thing – he first competed internationally at 14 – and did not take things too seriously.
He finished 21st in Vancouver in the 2010 Olympics and in the same position in the half-pipe four years later in Sochi. But he wanted more.
James started training properly, became a gym junkie and got a nutritionist, which meant diet changes.
The improved version was on show last year when he defended his world title, picked up his first X Games gold medal and won the Olympic test event. It was certainly noticed by White, the man known as the “Flying Tomato” who has dominated snowboarding for 15 years.
“He uses his strength and his height as an advantage for him, it’s just impressive,” White, 31, says. “I remember him being around, but he wasn’t as passionate, as driven as he is today.
“Scotty has definitely hit a nice peak last season by winning a bunch of big events and now he’s making his way and we’ll see what happens at the Olympics.”
Shattering the aura around White last year was a crucial breakthrough for James in his quest for Olympic gold.
“I have got a lot of respect for him. He’s the pioneer and he’s kind of put our sport on the map,” James says.
James, who is based in Colorado, didn’t mince words after a recent loss to White, saying he was “shafted” by the judges.
The American was given a perfect 100 and James was second (96.25) after unveiling a breakthrough switch backside double cork 1260, a trick he’d spent 18 months perfecting which involves three-and-ahalf spins, and a blind entry and landing.
“I am not a sore loser,” he says. “I just think everyone would agree it is pretty tough to get a perfect score.”
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FLYING HIGH: Australian Scotty James competes in the Men's Snowboard Halfpipealfpipe finals at the FIS Snowboard World Cup Cup. He’s hoping to claim gold at the Winter Olympics. Picture: GETTY IMAGES