For Shaun White’s entire career, age has just been a number, but for different reasons. White earned his first sponsorship at the age of seven after Burton came calling. It was shortly after Tony Hawk found him at a local skate park, and White proved to be able to compete against snowboarders well beyond his age as he began professional competitions at 13.
At 31 years old, White is far removed from the small kid Hawk plucked from the local half pipe, and Father Time is moving in the opposite direction as White looks pull off his best Benjamin Button impersonation. The snowboarding competitions at the 2018 Winter Olympics have been about youth as Red Gerard and Chloe Kim set records as the youngest snowboarders to win Olympic gold medals. As White’s own career tells us, the sport of snowboarding has been dominated by young athletes.
Critics say White’s disappointing performance in the 2014 Olympics along with his recent crash in New Zealand are proof that his best days are behind him. During the 2014 games, White had an opportunity to become the first United States Olympian to win a gold medal at the same event for three straight Winter Olympics. White finished a disappointing fourth on the half pipe. Additionally, White was expected to perform in the debut of the snowboarding slopestyle competition, but White ended up withdrawing from the event.
“People ask, ‘When are you going to get over it?’ You know, the loss or whatever,” White explained to NBC Sports. “You don’t, you don’t really ever get over it. It’s kind of like you have a scar from falling off a bike, it’s just with you forever. But you learn from it. So it’s a part of me now, which is great. As hard as it was, I’m thankful that it happened because it taught me a lot.”
Could it be these events were just what White needed to dig deeper for another stellar Olympic performance?
“Shaun likes to have his back against the wall,” NBC analyst Todd Richards told the Los Angeles Times. “This is his redemption.”
White admitted he lost a bit of motivation before the setbacks, and has found a new sense of purpose on the half pipe.
“The same things that got me motivated weren’t really working anymore,” White told the Los Angeles Times.
If White’s initial Olympic performance is any indication, he is not done yet. For all the promise of the 2018 Olympics, White’s resume is one of the best we have seen, even if he does not medal this year. White has been to four Olympic games, winning two gold medals. He has won 11 X Games gold medals along with two silvers to bring his total medal count to 13. White was the first athlete to get a perfect score at an X Games competition.
Gerard and Kim may be the future of American snowboarding, but White is out to prove he is not ready to pass the torch just yet. White started his career wowing fans with his age, and now has an opportunity to do the same thing nearly two decades later.