Can one of the most popular winter athletes of all time continue his snowboarding dominance in Sochi? That's the question facing Shaun White, who won gold in the halfpipe at the 2006 and '10 Olympics and is still considered the best in the world in the event.
Nicknamed the Flying Tomato in '06 for his red hair, White will make history by becoming the first U.S. men's snowboarder to participate in three Olympics. But that distinction isn't enough for the 27-year-old.
"He's going to arrive at the Sochi Olympics a better halfpipe rider than he's ever been," says White's coach, Bud Keene.
White will have a lot on his plate in Sochi. In addition to halfpipe, he will also compete in the slopestyle snowboarding competition, which is making its Olympic debut. He has won five career X Games gold medals in slopestyle.
The main concern for White is his health. Between snowboarding and skateboarding, he has logged a lot of miles in his career. Plus, he hurt his right ankle in August and has reduced his training runs. He is now putting an emphasis on flexibility and strength training, and he doesn't ride during bad weather. (White has been able to train at his own private facility at a resort in Australia, built by one of his sponsors.)
Greatest of All Time?
Keene says White still has a lot of gas left in his tank. "I know every halfpipe competitor in the world would love to hear me say, "This is it for Shaun,'" Keene says, "But I see at least another one, and possibly two, Olympic Games in his future."
White has already crafted an impressive legacy. He's the face of the X Games and the Olympics, and his fame has helped other action sports athletes get recognized by a broader audience. "We've always been passionate about [snowboarding], but Shaun has taken that to the mainstream, something no snowboarder has ever done before," Keene says.
A halfpipe three-peat and a gold in slopestyle would be just the latest chapter in the Legend of Shaun White. He is already one of the greatest action sports athletes ever. He could leave Sochi as one of the greatest Olympians ever.
For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids' Guide to the Games!
Photo: DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES
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