In addition to daily training, White’s been keeping busy with his first television special. The record-setting snowboarder just allowed sports fans (and the rest of the world) behind the scenes and into the process of becoming the best at his sport with the NBC special Shaun White: Russia Calling which aired on January 25, 2014. The special provided an in-depth look at White’s preparation process as well as his life outside of the world of snowboarding. The NBC special marked the first time we’ve been allowed to really get to know Shaun White the person, not just Shaun White the medal-winning athlete, and in support of its airing and the upcoming Olympics, White took part in a conference call to discuss what he’s doing to get ready to compete.
What are you most excited for this time around and why is this experience different from your past Olympics?
Shaun White: “What am I most excited about? You know, I can’t really pinpoint one thing; everything’s been really exciting. I mean, we’ve been talking a lot about me going to the Olympics and just a week ago it was official so that was like a weight off my shoulders and very exciting just to know that I get to go through the whole process again of like flying out, going and getting all your gear and getting ready for the [Games]. You know what I mean? It’s just such an exciting thing to go through processing and just be a part of meeting all the other athletes and the Opening Ceremony and all that stuff. So I think that’s been the most thrilling for me is the fact that I get to go do that again.
And this time around, I mean, gosh, I really can’t compare it. It’s been so much, I would say, more difficult than the other times just because I’m doing double events. I mean, I got slopestyle and halfpipe and, obviously halfpipe I’m going for the three-peat. But slopestyle is interesting because I’ve actually had to do a lot of catch up work.
It’s a lot of progression in a short span of time and I’m just really doing my best to get ready. That’s why I ended up pulling out of X Games and things like that. I’m sure everybody’s going to ask me that. But, you know, I really wanted to take the time and give this the right amount of training and the right amount of preparation. And I don’t know, but to be honest it’s been the time of my life. I mean, it’s been the worst and best thing, you know what I mean? It’s been a struggle and that’s what’s been nice.”
When you first started competing a long time ago I’m sure you kind of had an idea or dreamed of what your life would be like if you got to compete and win the Olympics. Now that you’ve done it twice, what in your whole journey has surprised you the most?
Shaun White: “Well I guess in the very beginning the Olympics was just a dream. There was no Olympics; X Games had just started and there was no real shining future for me in the sport – or for anyone in the sport at that time. You know, it was definitely not what it is today; it was brand new. It was very kind of ‘rebel’. We weren’t even allowed on some of the mountains and stuff like that. And so I remember competing and then learning of the opportunity that I could one day go to the Olympics once it had started. But I guess from the beginning I always – I would be lying to say I always knew that I would be here. I always knew that I could do it and that I could win the events and at least make an amazing living and be the best at the sport at some period of time. I think that’s the reason why I’m here. I mean, I just truly believed in it and didn’t really see any other options. That’s why I went for it. When you’re that young your goals seem so close to you and I really just ran for it. I had the support from my family.
But, yeah, I’m just really excited. This is the third time around for me and it’s definitely way more exciting than the last time because I get two chances to win medals. It’s incredibly thrilling.”
Did you prepare for these Olympic Games differently than before? How did you prepare?
Shaun White: “You know, I approached it slightly similar to the other events. I mean, I basically pictured where I wanted to be at and what level of riding I wanted to before the Olympics and I set my goal probably a year or so ago and I never really looked back. […] I set my goal from the beginning of what I wanted to do and I feel like [and]to turn back now would be it would be a shame. It would be hurting my chance for the other medal. I mean, they go hand in hand. So I slightly changed certain things just because I had to divide my time. I would say that that’s been the most difficult comparing from the last time to the Olympics in Vancouver or Torino is that this time I’ve really go to like I wake up in the morning, I ride the halfpipe, I then jet over, I ride the slopestyle course and then I come home and I play the band set for when we have to go on tour. So, I mean, my days are just packed. And then I try to eat in between that and stretch and ice and do all the things. And I do it the next day.
But it’s been grueling. It’s been a long winter. I think the first question I was asked, I’m just so excited that we’re coming to this point of I get to compete, you know what I mean? It’s been such a long time in the works. We’ve been filming this NBC special called Russia Calling and this documentary I think is the first for me to really let people in actually and see what goes into it. You see me falling, you see me crashing. I’m doubting myself. I’m changing my plans. You know, you really see what happens behind the scenes rather than just me showing up and winning some medals and you got a new trick with a funny name. [Laughing] It’s like this really shows you what goes on behind the scenes and what happens. I’m really proud of it because the first time I’ve actually told my story rather than linking with a sponsor or some outside party and having them kind of like tell my story. I picked the music, I helped do the editing, and I obviously rode and did the tricks and planned it out.
But I think that’s been the craziest things for me is that there’s just so many things at work right now. I mean, within the music, the show, doing two events for the Olympics and what have you.”
Can you talk a little bit about the recent controversy surrounding Russia and the Olympic Games?
Shaun White: [Laughing] “Which controversy would you be referring to? I think there’s a couple.”
The security controversy, the gay rights issues…along those lines.
Shaun White: “Okay yeah, security-wise, I don’t know. For me from the last couple of Olympics that I’ve attended I can’t remember when this wasn’t some sort of threat or some scare or something to be worried about. And I’ve never felt more secure. They really take care of the athletes and the staff and the people around [with]checks and searches and all sorts of stuff. The Olympic Village is one of the hardest places to get into. But I’m bringing my whole family, if that says anything. You know, I feel very confident that we’re going to be well looked after.
As far as the gay lesbian controversy, you know, I don’t know. I just find it’s unfortunate that there’s so much pressure already put on athletes and then to be isolated and kind of maybe feeling a little more pressure or a little uncomfortable. You know, it’s very unfortunate. But I think that that’s what’s special about the Olympics: it brings all sorts of people together and maybe there’s something to be learned from one another in this sense and this could be a good thing. So I’m hoping for the best.”
So do you think the recent news stories involving security concerns are a little overblown because this has been a concern at every single Olympics for the last 30 or 40 years?
Shaun White: “Yeah. You know, I think it’s just the world right now. I mean, it’s definitely in a fragile place sometimes. And we’ve got to do our best and you’ve go to put your best foot forward. Well to give an example, my first Olympics that I attended was right after 9/11 and it was intimidating. I remember we had these very big sit-down talks about what we could and couldn’t do and to be careful and these things. And at a certain point you’ve got to look past it and live your life and I think that that’s what hopefully will happen. Everybody’s going to go and do their thing. Medals will be won and it’s the Olympics. I mean, it’s such an incredibly victorious thing to even attend the Olympics. It’s such an amazing event that I’m hoping that it’ll go off without a hitch.”
Are you staying in the Olympic Village? Who are you most excited to meet, in terms of other athletes? Do you plan on catching some other competitions while you’re there?
Shaun White: “Mind you to stay out of my personal affairs. [Laughing] No, just kidding. You know what? I will be attending the Village for just a little bit and then this time around it’s different where in Vancouver I actually stayed at the Village just because it was only a 30-minute drive to the mountain. Here I think it’s slightly different; it’s a little bit harder to get up to the mountains in Sochi so I’ll be definitely be coming in say, ‘Hi,’ and then making my way up. But I don’t know, as far as people to meet, who do you think? I haven’t really been reading up on who the hopefuls are. But I think that’s been the most exciting thing for me is I remember just making friends, just meeting new people that I wouldn’t have expected. I was most surprised by the US Women’s Hockey Team because there’s like cute little blondes, these normal-looking little blonde girls and then they were just … you could just tell they were rugged. [Laughing] You know what I mean? They knew the sport.
But, yeah, I was really blown away to just meet everybody and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. But I wouldn’t say there’s a certain person or something, yeah.”
And now since your hair has been cut off, will you still be called the Flying Tomato? What would you rather be called?
Shaun White: “I know. I’m going to wait and see what happens. I remember when I was in the process of getting my hair cut I was like, ‘What are they going to call me? Got no more hair.’ But I’m really feeling the new look for myself. I don’t know what you would call it. It’s just kind of like a transformation of age and just style and everything that I’ve been feeling for a while. It really kind of summed it up.
There was a lot of talk of that I couldn’t cut my hair, and it was something that I needed to do. I came up with the idea to donate my hair to Locks of Love […]and I didn’t tell anyone. I just went and did it. I didn’t want to be talked out of it, and I’m very happy I did. I feel like I’m really, I guess, coming of age or really coming into who I am. And, I can wear hats now. I can wear hats.
I’m assuming that some adorable little girl got it, like flowing red locks. But, yeah, hopefully it went to a good home.”
You are such a veteran now of the Olympics. What is the advice you’d give to Olympians who’ve never been there before? What should they be doing and what should they be looking out for and trying to remember about their experience?
Shaun White: “I guess, you know, I would say to just enjoy it all. I mean, enjoy being an Olympian because when I first went I didn’t know what that meant. And a lot of people still won’t know. You know, to be in a sport like snowboarding and it’s a very individual sport, you do your runs and you got your sponsors and your things, your whole training regimen; it’s what you’re doing. And all of a sudden you’ve become part of a team and you got a flag on your arm. You know what I mean? The dynamic has changed.
I would say for my experience I enjoyed my second time at the Olympics by far more than my first time, just because I knew that we were going to get a bunch of clothes and the processing and you collected trade pins with the other countries and you do all these different things. And so I really knew what was heading my way. And obviously winning medals is great and it’s what we all go and strive for. But, you know, just to be an Olympian is being a part of history and I think that that’s the special thing about this competition that you don’t get anywhere else is that you’re really joining and becoming something – a part of something bigger than yourself.
So I would just say to have fun and then enjoy yourself, take it all in. And just remember that it is a competition, you know what I mean? It’s like you could put all the bells and whistles you want, all the people in the crowd but in the end of the day when I’m standing at the top of the halfpipe, it’s a halfpipe. It’s just the same two walls I’ve been riding since I was six years old and that really comforts me in the sense of like I know my place and I know this is what I do. And then I’m going to go and do what I do and so that’s kind of how I look at it. It’s such a bizarre thing but it’s like a complete focus with the slightest bit of not caring what you’re looking for. But, you know, that’s just being honest.”
For years you have become almost a brand onto yourself. Shaun White the look, even with the hair cut, is its own brand. What do you do to not lose yourself in that brand? What do you do to kind of keep who you are true to yourself as opposed to what we see on the magazine covers, the cereal boxes and the video games?
Shaun White: “Yeah, well that’s a great question. You know, I think since day one I remember being very concerned and very intrigued by the sponsorships that I had, how they used me in ads and how I was perceived. I remember getting the poster – a kid came up to me and wanted me to sign a poster and I was like, ‘This photo is terrible. Who picked this? Like how do I get a say in this?’ And from that day I remember going to my agent and I was like, ‘I want approval over these things,’ and that’s really how it started. It was a very natural way of me wanting to be informed about the way my likeness was used.
And so if you think about it, I mean, I’ve been with Target Stores 11 years now, 12 years. I’ve been with Oakley for 11 or 12 years. I’ve been with Burton since I was seven years old. So these are like long-lasting, deep relationships and they’re partners that I’ve been with for so long that they work with me instead of kind of telling me what to do. That’s been the luxury of having success at the Olympics in these things. It’s allowed me to have the position to say no, to say, ‘You know, I want to do this, I want to do that.’ And I’m glad you brought up the music because that’s something that’s so important to me because it’s the only thing that I do that involves any sort of collaboration. I mean, it doesn’t matter how well I play the guitar, you know, it only matters the sounds that we make together. You have to have a drum beat, you have to have somebody singing, all these things have to come together. And so that’s what I love about it. There’s no competition, you just create, you just do, and that’s been my favorite part about the music process. Our album just came out a couple days ago on iTunes and it’s just been such an exciting time for me in my life. But these are the things that keep me grounded. I have friends in the band.
I don’t know. I mean, to be honest I really just take a sponsorship and I go, ‘Okay, does this align with what I’m all about? Does this make sense in the first place? What will people think if I do this?’ And then at the end of the day it’s up to me really turning it into my own thing. I’ve done all sorts of random endorsements to normal endorsements, like industry endorsements you could say like Oakleys. It’s a product that I use on the mountains, the sunglasses I wear around. But I was doing a tire sponsorship at one point. I’m not much of a driver. And that’s that we did, we made fun of that. We were like let’s take the fact that I wasn’t the best driver and really exploit that and turn me into a good driver and make it something fun and something real that’s going on in my life and apply it to the same scenario.
You know, Stride Gum, they came out with a new flavor, Golden Fruit, and it’s obviously they called it Golden Fruit because we’re going for the Olympics in the air and the season. And I picked out the flavors; I work with them on the commercials. I do all these things, so I think being involved is what makes it legitimate and very palatable for the people that see my things.”
Do you remember the very first time that you did a really hard move and what that felt like?
Shaun White: [Laughing] “I did one today. It was intense. It was rewarding. It was something where I was nervous going into it. I was slightly hesitant yet I focused my mind and made up the decision that I was going to do the trick and I was going to fully believe and put everything I had into it and hope for the best outcome. And, you know, it went well. It went well. Sometimes it doesn’t but then you get up and you learned a very important lesson of what not to do and then you try again. I think I heard someone relate it to mathematics which really made sense to me because you sit and you have a math problem in front of you and you try different solutions and possible outcomes and finally one works and you get the right answer. I mean, that’s truly what it’s like to learn trick snowboarding. You make subtle adjustments, different tweaks, watch a video of you doing it. You study it and you slowly learn the new trick. But, it’s rewarding. You feel better about your day. It’s very rewarding to do new tricks and then to take it to a contest and do it in front of people and win awards.
But usually tricks are based off of other tricks. So, you know, ever since I was six years old I learned how to do a 180, which is degrees of rotation so 180 degrees is half a circle. And then I was like, ‘Man, what if I tried a 360?’ You know what I mean. And so I learned that. I was like, ‘Man, what if I went one more?, and slowly it was just years and years of doing that. It’s like if you play piano or you play a guitar or any sort of instrument, you know the simple songs just don’t really cut it anymore. You want something more advanced, something more technical, different beat, different timing. That’s where jazz and all these things come from. It’s definitely people pushing the boundaries of what’s out there, so that’s really where it comes from.”
What advice you would give to the kids that are going to be watching you during the Olympics?
Shaun White: “What advice would I have? I guess if you’re interested in going into sports, you know what? I don’t think it really matters what you do. I mean, it’s just kind of like an overall thing. But if you really wanted something – and it sounds corny, it sounds cheesy – but if you really wanted something bad enough and you take any step in the right direction towards your goal that you’ve set for yourself… I mean, the right steps and you’ve got to just believe and keep going. That’s been kind of the foundation of my career and my life in the sense is I really set my goals high and I don’t change them for anyone or anything. And sometimes you see them and sometimes you don’t and you just work harder the next time around.
I think that’s what’s really kept me going this whole time is that I just believe that I can do it and then get others that believe in you and you surround yourself with the right people. Good friends are hard to come by so you definitely want to hold onto the ones that make you a better person. So I say surround yourself with good people and really pursue your dreams.
[Laughing] And tell them to wear tighter pants…”
-Posted by Rebecca Murray
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