White fo­cused on half­pipe for 2018 Games

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Rachel Axon

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.

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