Can we an­swer the Shaun White ques­tion?


White made head­lines for win­ning his third gold medal. But why is so lit­tle at­ten­tion be­ing paid to the sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions that cloud the snow­boarder’s legacy?

Shaun White has been the king of the half­pipe for three of the past four Win­ter Olympics, win­ning in South Korea after earn­ing his first gold in 2006 in Torino and sec­ond in 2010 in Van­cou­ver. The 2018 victory came after he crashed try­ing to com­plete a cab dou­ble cork 1440 in New Zealand in Oc­to­ber, re­sult­ing in bruised lungs and fa­cial cuts that needed 62 stitches, some of which he still has.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Shaun White threw the trick, the one that had sent him to the hospi­tal five months ago, and told his coach he was scared.

In prac­tice for the Olympic fi­nal at Phoenix Snow Park, the mem­o­ries of that crash hadn’t faded any more than the still-pink scars on White’s fore­head, nose and up­per lip. JJ Thomas en­cour­aged White, telling him he had ex­e­cuted the trick fine.

By the time his third run in the fi­nal came around, that took a back seat to the com­pet­i­tive­ness that has made White snow­board­ing’s big­gest icon.

Need­ing to land a com­bi­na­tion of tricks he’d never done be­fore, White soared above the half­pipe and put down the run of his life.

In the end, he was Olympic cham­pion again.

“We were on such a great path, and it was that true ques­tion of do I re­ally want this?” White said. “And step­ping out on the snow again means that I’m will­ing to let this hap­pen to my­self again. That’s a big de­ci­sion, and plenty of my friends were like, you’ve got medals. You’re blessed to be well off from this sport, you could eas­ily just go sail into the sun­set and write your novel.

“But I set out to do this goal, and I stuck to it. And they helped me over­come that fear, and then I did the same trick that put me in the hospi­tal to win the Olympics. It was a true emo­tional trip.”

The past four years have tested White’s mo­ti­va­tion in a sport in which he be­came a global icon.

In the lead-up to the Sochi Games, White, 31, was do­ing more than he ever had. In ad­di­tion to com­pet­ing on the half­pipe team, he qual­i­fied for the slopestyle team be­fore pulling out of the event once he got to Rus­sia. He was tour­ing with his band, Bad Things. He was even try­ing to learn Span­ish.

“In Sochi, I just didn’t have it in me,” he said. “And it’s aw­ful to ad­mit it, but yet it’s just un­mo­ti­vated. I was slightly de­feated be­fore I got there.

“I had this perfect storm of bit­ing off more than I can chew dur­ing a time when I was the most un­mo­ti­vated.” That changed after Sochi. Ini­tially, he com­mit­ted pub­licly to re­turn­ing. But he wasn’t com­pet­ing while he toured with his band and some thought he re­tired. He came back in 2015-16, but he pulled out of a com­pe­ti­tion after the death of a friend.

“My comeback sea­son, life threw me a curve­ball,” he said. “And I’m like, what does this mean? Flips in the half­pipe don’t re­ally mean much to me right now.

“Re­ally slowly I had to find the love for the sport again.”

That was not en­tirely ac­ci­den­tal. White changed the team around him, get­ting a new man­ager, pub­li­cist, coach and phys­i­cal ther­a­pist. He started work­ing out, train­ing off the snow in a way that mo­ti­vated him to get back on it. He started trav­el­ing with Toby Miller, a young rider whose en­thu­si­asm for the sport re­minded White what he loved about it.

All was in po­si­tion to aim for suc­cess in Pyeongchang, un­til White was try­ing a cab dou­ble cork 1440 in New Zealand in Oc­to­ber.

He ended up in the hospi­tal for five days with bruised lungs, gashes on his fore­head and nose and a split up­per lip. White needed 62 stitches, some of which are still in his tongue.

“You can see his face. He’s still heal­ing,” Thomas said. “It’s just re­mark­able that he was able to over­come that.”

Over­com­ing that meant land­ing back-to-back 1440s after sil­ver medal­ist Ayumu Hi­rano had done it in his run.

White did it for the first time, hit­ting a mas­sive frontside dou­ble cork 1440 — which is two off-axis flips with four spins — be­fore hit­ting a cab dou­ble cork 1440, the trick he had crashed on.

The tricks are dan­ger­ous enough that he didn’t prac­tice them in com­bi­na­tion be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I was think­ing, man, what a weird Olympics. Usu­ally Shaun shows up and if he does his run, he wins,” Thomas said. “But that’s not the case any­more, he has to do his run and do it big and perfect and all this other stuff.”

It was enough to score a 97.75 for an­other gold, one that came 12 years after he won his first one, four years after a dev­as­tat­ing show­ing in Sochi and five months after the crash made him re­con­sider if he wanted to con­tinue in the sport.

He lis­tened to Thomas after that prac­tice run, and he re­minded him­self that he could do the trick. Mo­ti­vated to land it, White over­came his fear of what could hap­pen if it went wrong.

After he’d won, White teared up at what it had taken to sus­tain his push to get back atop the Olympic podium. Over the past four years, he’d found plenty of rea­son to ques­tion his mo­ti­va­tion.

Did he still want this? Each time he an­swered yes, and after a ground­break­ing run, he was Olympic cham­pion again.

“It just means the world to me. To win in that fashion is some­thing spe­cial. That last run, it’s just like all that hard work and all the in­juries. The ups and downs and the de­ci­sion to come back after all that, you just did it,” White said. “You ce­mented it in, and I don’t think you could ever for­get this day in the sport of snow­board­ing. I’m proud that I’m on top, and I don’t say that of­ten about my­self be­cause I try to stay hun­gry for that next win, but I’m chang­ing my ways and I’m re­ally proud of my­self.”

“It just means the world to me. To win in that fashion is some­thing spe­cial.” Shaun White After win­ning the gold medal in half­pipe


2010 2006

A third gold medal in four Olympics brought Shaun White to tears after he won the half­pipe. JACK GRUBER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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