- Shaun White is the greatest rider in the history of men’s freestyle snowboarding.
- The three-time gold medalist will compete in his fifth Olympic Games at Beijing 2022.
- White spoke to Insider about his new outlook on snowboarding as his career comes to a close.
Shaun White is finally contemplating the end.
A full 16 years after he first arrived on the Olympic stage, the larger-than-life snowboarder with three gold medals to his name will embark on the fifth — and final — Olympic Games of his illustrious career. And even though the red-headed wunderkind who McTwisted his way to celebrity has become as much of a Winter Olympics staple as snow or ice, White’s mere presence at the 2022 Beijing Olympics as a 35-year-old is a feat worth celebrating all its own.
“Every single time I go to the Olympics, it just presents a new challenge,” White told Insider ahead of the games. “There’s always something exciting or new to be gained or done. And now being one of the older competitors, or actually unfortunately the oldest competitor, I’m really proud of that. That’s really awesome. It’s not a downer to me.”
“It’s like, ‘Wow, I’ve done so much,'” he added. “‘And I’m still here.”
Still here he is, for now. White has publicly grappled with the fact that these games will likely be his last. After all, he’s closer to 50 now than he is to 19 — the age at which he won his first Olympic gold medal.
And he competes in a sport notorious for wreaking havoc on the bodies of even the youngest, fittest participants.
The “wear and tear,” as White calls the injuries amassed from years of falling out of the sky onto a rock-hard slab of ice, has taken its toll. He can’t bounce back from a “spill” — again, his words — like he once did.
White recalled a time when, during this latest run-up to the Olympics, he miscalculated his take-off from the lip of the halfpipe. He flew out too far over the deck as a result, and smashed down ribs-first onto the icy edge.
The wipeout left him “pretty worked,” he admitted: “I’d be lying to say that didn’t take me out for a couple of days.”
“I know that there’ll be a time where I can’t do it or don’t want to do it anymore,” White said. “And that is probably in somewhat of the nearer future than when I was like wide-eyed when I was 17.”
“You never think about that in the early years,” he added. “And now that I know that there’s a narrowing window of time, it gets you excited to push harder and obviously keep the window open, but also to enjoy all the little details of it.”
That shift in mindset presented itself during a recent trip to Switzerland, where White trained for part of his ramp-up to the Olympics. He started to look around a bit more, and he realized he had never truly taken the time to appreciate the beauty of his surroundings.
To be fair, White didn’t have much spare time outside of snowboarding for most of his career; he was too busy pushing himself, and his sport, to new heights.
But times have changed, and so has White’s outlook.
“Every little thing is fleeting,” he said. “So it has extra meaning now.”
Beijing will surely be unlike any other Olympics White has attended. Not only are he and his teammates competing during yet another wave of a global pandemic, but for one of the only times in his career, the Flying Tomato — as he was known in his early years — is not the favorite to win gold.
White narrowly made the team for this winter’s games after battling COVID-19 and lingering ankle issues throughout the winter’s stretch of qualifying events. And even at full strength, he’s not expected to make the podium.
A pair of Japanese riders — Ayumu Hirano and Yuto Totsuka — are standing in his way, as is 27-year-old Australian Scotty James. They’re all pushing the boundaries of snowboarding that White long defined; all three have flirted with — and sometimes even landed — gravity-defying triple corks in competition.
—Dew Tour (@DewTour) December 19, 2021
“There’s always some new trick or new rider, somebody younger, somebody trying something different, and you have to be ahead of the curve,” White said. “I talk about it like fashion. It’s ever changing. You have to predict what the new style is going to be and what the judges want.”
Still, it’s never smart to count White out. He shocked the world with his come-from-behind victory in 2018 after failing to medal in Sochi four years earlier. Who’s to say lightning won’t strike twice?
Besides, he hasn’t abandoned what’s made him the sport’s foremost star for several decades; his will to win “more than anything” is still very much intact.
“It’s just embedded in me,” he says.
But believe it or not, first place really isn’t the be all, end all for the greatest champion snowboarding has ever seen.
“The Olympics is something funny where you don’t really see a lot of repeats,” White said. “Maybe one or two or ‘Wow. He went to three Olympics!’ And that’s something that’s just kept me going.”
“I’m just — I’m so proud. This will be the fifth Olympics for me,” he adds with a hint of disbelief. “And I always say my greatest accomplishment isn’t one win or something like that.”
“It is to be on top of the sport that’s ever-changing for as long as I have.”