Shaun White claims half­pipe gold as Bri­tish curlers make strong start

The Guardian - - INSIDE | NEWS - Bryan Ar­men Gra­ham

On the sur­face Shaun White’s re­demp­tion song, a four-year fight­back from rock bot­tom that cul­mi­nated yes­ter­day morn­ing with his third Olympic gold medal in the snow­board half­pipe, is as deeply satisfying a story as you will find at these Win­ter Games.

“It was a deja vu sit­u­a­tion to the Sochi Olympics [where White fin­ished fourth after start­ing as over­whelm­ing favourite],” he said after yes­ter­day’s victory. “I’m so thank­ful that I got to stand there again and know who I am, and know what I can do, and do that run to win it. It’s so rare that you get these op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­deem your­self in life and in your ca­reer and I took ad­van­tage of that.”

There are few things more pre­cious in life than a sec­ond chance and to watch White make the most of his was the type of mo­ment that makes the Olympics, for all their prob­lems, worth­while. Which makes White’s elu­sive and oblique re­sponse yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to the sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions that resur­faced this week all the more dis­heart­en­ing.

Two years ago Lena Zawaideh, a for­mer drum­mer in White’s elec­tronic rock band Bad Things, sued the snow­boarder over sex­ual ha­rass­ment, bad busi­ness prac­tices and fail­ure to pay wages.

The amended com­plaint claims, among other things, that “White stuck his hands down his pants, ap­proached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face try­ing to make her smell them” and that White “used his role to im­pose a strict regime over Zawaideh, go­ing so far as to de­mand that she cut her hair, wear re­veal­ing clothes and un­der­wear, and re­frain from wear­ing red lipstick”.

White ve­he­mently de­nied Zawaideh’s al­le­ga­tions, though he did ad­mit send­ing the se­ries of sex­u­ally ex­plicit text mes­sages in­cluded in the com­plaint, help­fully ex­cerpted on the sports web­site Dead­spin. At best it’s a bad look. After months of le­gal jock­ey­ing the par­ties set­tled out of court in May last year and any mem­ory of the al­le­ga­tions, and law­suit, went wher­ever these things went be­fore the #Me­Too awak­en­ing of the last cou­ple of months.

But they have bub­bled to the sur­face once more since New York mag­a­zine raised them dur­ing the run-up to the snow­boarder’s re­turn to the spot­light. A few days later White’s home­town pa­per ran a story cast­ing the law­suit as one of the “ob­sta­cles” over­come by White dur­ing his road to Pyeongchang, along­side his in­juries and the ris­ing tide of younger com­peti­tors.

That led to a tense press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day af­ter­noon when White briefly fielded a ques­tion from a re­porter on the al­le­ga­tions – “Hon­estly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gos­sip,” he said – be­fore a press of­fi­cer shut down a se­ries of fol­lowup at­tempts from mul­ti­ple re­porters.

To be clear, White is un­der no obli­ga­tion to com­ment on a closed le­gal mat­ter, not least hours after putting down the run of his life in a mo­ment that is likely to de­fine his pro­fes­sional ca­reer and Olympic legacy. And be­sides, his boost­ers will tell you, White is like­able. No one wants the erst­while Fly­ing Tomato to be a low-key garbage per­son.

But evad­ing these types of ques­tions – maybe some­thing ath­letes could have got away with in the past – sim­ply will not fly in the cur­rent cli­mate. By hiding be­hind press of­fi­cers and dis­miss­ing the al­le­ga­tions as “gos­sip” – a choice of ver­biage he quickly walked back in an interview on NBC’s To­day show – White only in­vites more scru­tiny and runs the risk of al­low­ing a re­gret­table episode to de­fine at the very least the whole­some pub­lic im­age he has spent years cul­ti­vat­ing, one that has brought him un­told riches.

The choice is his. He can ei­ther live out life as one of the dozens of Olympic gold medal­lists who have their mo­ment on the podium and fade back into anonymity as pri­vate cit­i­zens. Or he can con­tinue to reap the fi­nan­cial and so­cial re­wards be­stowed upon a se­lect few and ad­dress an episode that might have re­mained buried if not for a reck­on­ing in Amer­i­can life no one could have imag­ined even this time last year, let alone when he soared to in­ter­na­tional fame more than a decade ago in Turin.

The for­mer seems un­likely. White is al­ready talk­ing about com­pet­ing in skate­board­ing, an event set to make its de­but at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Nor does it sound like a run for Bei­jing 2022 and a fifth Win­ter Olympics ap­pear­ance is out of the ques­tion.

The cock­tail of si­lence and time was once a safe bet to make these things go away. Maybe in the world of sports, which has largely evaded the crosshairs of #Me­Too so far, it still is. But White may just find that gam­ble to­day is a los­ing propo­si­tion.

Shaun White has faced ques­tions over his con­duct

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