White focused on halfpipe for 2018 Games
Shaun White planned a low-key birthday celebration for this week, just dinner with friends and family.
By Sunday, when he turns 31, the two-time Olympic gold medalist will be in New Zealand chasing snow and a World Cup win to start a season that he hopes will get him back atop the podium in Pyeongchang.
“If I show up, I’m going to try and win,” White told USA TODAY Sports, speaking of the Olympics specifically while acknowledging an ethos that has made him one of the most-accomplished competition riders in the sport.
“That’s all I care about and want to do. I won’t lie to you. I think you can tell by my life’s record that’s kind of what I like to do and I don’t really aim any lower, so I’d be lying to say I’m not there to win.”
The journey back to another Olympic medal begins this season with a FIS World Cup in Cardrona, New Zealand, on Sept. 8-9.
Long snowboarding ’s most famous rider, White comes into this year with a new approach coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in Sochi. He changed coaches, switching from longtime coach Bud Keene to Olympic bronze medalist JJ Thomas. He spends more time working out and in physical therapy.
He spent part of the offseason training in Oregon and in Mammoth, seeking to stay closer to home to stay connected with friends and family.
White is enjoying the sport again, relishing in learning new tricks.
“I have a couple things in my pocket that I’m waiting to see what happens just so I know and maybe I need that motivation to clear this hurdle,” he said. “Just going up thinking, ‘Oh, I might need it’ is harder to get the job than going, ‘OK, I need this trick. It’s not a maybe anymore. I need this to succeed.’ ”
Those tricks — one new to him and one new to snowboarding entirely — are likely to come out during the four remaining qualifying events that will determine the U.S. team.
White wouldn’t say what they were, but footage from this offseason shows the veteran rider has dialed in one of snowboarding ’s toughest tricks.
White learned a frontside version of the YOLO flip, a double cork 1440 created by Iouri Podlatchikov that helped the Swiss rider claim gold in Sochi.
“It’s just such a strange trick. It’s been a battle,” White said. “It’s like I’ve done it before, but then again the technique wasn’t as good so I would start over doing it to the airbag, trying to do these little tweaks and changes and then bring it back and take it back to the airbag. It’s just been this kind of like ongoing battle, so I think that was finally some footage you saw when it all clicked.”
This time, White will only spend time learning tricks in one event.
In 2014, he made the U.S. team in halfpipe and slopestyle with the latter event making its Olympic debut in Russia. But splitting time between training for both events took its toll, and White withdrew from the slopestyle competition once he got to Russia.
By doing both, he felt like he was constantly relearning tricks in each.
“I was just thinking about being kind to myself and just doing halfpipe this time. Honestly, it was such a struggle to do both,” he said
“I never felt like I was gaining the proper momentum and feeling rewarded for it because every time I would learn something somewhere, I would feel like I was neglecting the other. It wasn’t like I felt satisfied in the end.”
With a new approach and singular focus, White hopes this Olympic year will end differently. After this first event, White will return to New Zealand to train in October, possibly with a stop in Switzerland on the way.
Next week, it will be warm and crowded, with riders from around the world taking advantage of the end of New Zealand’s winter. But White is looking for a little more to celebrate as he continues his path back to the Olympics.