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Trying to ketchup with the Flying Tomato

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Rob Hodgetts | 01:21 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Most know him as the "Flying Tomato", some prefer "Red Zeppelin". I would suggest the "Scarlet Pimpernel".

Shaun White, the snowboarder with the long red locks, is back to defend his Olympic half-pipe title, after winning gold as a 19-year-old in Turin.

White was already a big name in 2006, a twin snowboarding and skateboarding prodigy. Now he is a global icon. A one-man brand.

The American is reputed to earn $9m a year through endorsements alone. He has more than 684,000 fans on the social network Facebook and more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

He's a man in demand, and because of that, he's rather difficult to pin down for a chat.

We tried, of course, but more of that later.

White is largely credited with progressing half-pipe snowboarding more in the past 12 months than anyone else has managed in the sport's history.Shaun White
All eyes will be on the American in the half-pipe. Photograph: AFP

The Californian has been pushing the boundaries of what is possible, even having a huge private half-pipe - dubbed Project X - built by sponsors on which to hone his bag of mind-blowing manoeuvres.

Driving himself on alone in a remote part of Colorado, White has pioneered the double McTwist 1260, a terrifying double back flip while spinning around three-and-a-half times. He has also been at the forefront of developing variations of the double cork, the previous benchmark of insanity.

"When I used to try double corks I would be so nervous and my hands would shake," he said. "Now guys are doing three in a run." Not that they are easy, though. His biggest rival, Kevin Pearce, is still in hospital after a double cork went wrong on New Year's Eve.

Neither is White immune to failure. At last month's Winter X Games, the annual extreme sports jamboree, White hit the lip hard trying to land a double McTwist. His helmet flew off and he rode dazed into the finish. But he pulled off the trick successfully in his final run and won the event for a third year in a row.

"That trick is my best friend and worst enemy," said White, who is also a Summer X Games gold medallist on his skateboard.

Armed with this explosive arsenal of tricks, White is happy to admit that he goes into the Olympics as the red-hot favourite.

"I think I might be," he mused at the US half-pipe team news conference here in Vancouver. "I can feel confident in saying that. But I definitely think every day is its own day."

White, resembling a King Charles spaniel with his red hair tumbling down under an oversized baseball cap, was keen to stress that despite all his fame and riches he is still the same humble guy who began skiing as a six-year-old on road trips with his mum, dad, brother and sister.

"We all travelled in a van, staying in motels, making food and letting off fire alarms," said White, who insists the "Flying Tomato" nickname is dead, preferring "Animal" after the red-haired drummer from the Muppets.

"I wouldn't trade anything in the world for it because that's where I came from. I'm glad the money hasn't changed me. I'm pretty sure I would have been corrupted a long time ago if I was going to go down that path. When I go back home to see the family I still have to clean up after the dog and stuff. I'm a pretty relaxed normal guy."

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But while White may be unchanged as a person, his circumstances are vastly different.

Four years ago in Turin, my colleague Anna Thompson told me she was able to have a relaxed natter with him after a training run.

At these Games, White's is a micro-managed, corporate-controlled existence.

One-on-one interviews were a definite no-no after the news conference, but BBC snowboarding commentator Ed Leigh had a trick up his own sleeve.

He had arranged to speak to one of the favourites for the women's half-pipe, Gretchen Bleiler, up at Grouse Mountain outside Vancouver that evening. White would also be there for a sponsors engagement. Maybe, just maybe, we could grab an impromptu chat on camera up there.

But scurrying out of the media centre, Ed and I spotted White standing unguarded in the lobby. Trouble was, cameraman Chris had gone to get the car. We were weaponless.

Pulling into the Grouse Mountain car park in the dark and spitting rain, we ran across to the cable car that would take us up to the base lodge. On the way, we spotted White and implored the lift operator to hold the car. As one, the possibility dawned on us. White was about to be served up on a plate, trapped in the same cabin with no escape route.

The lifty knew it, too. "I'm not going anywhere until White shows up," he said, showing us his snowboard that he had stashed in the corner to be signed.

Ed composed himself, Chris readied his kit, I looked out. Then, like a young prince flanked by his courtiers, White approached. "Here we go fellas," said Ed. But the light in the cable car suddenly went out. Not an electrical fault, but a giant of a man - appropriately named "Tiny" - quickly and unceremoniously booted us out.

"It was too good to be true," we all said at once as we waited for the next cabin.

Up top, White was nowhere to be seen, but apparently he was in and out while we interviewed Gretchen. We packed up slowly and resignedly made our way back down.

Stepping out into the now soaking wet night, we almost bumped right into White signing some autographs. But before we could react, he was bundled into a giant SUV and spirited away.

And as if to taunt us, who should we pull up next to at the lights 10 minutes later? You've got it. "He must think we're following him," said Ed. "We are," said Chris. But our chance had gone, and we drove quietly back to the office to put together our pieces from the day.

The "Scarlet Pimpernel" had eluded us again. But whether it's "Animal", "Flying Tomato", "Red Zeppelin", whatever guise White turns up in for the half-pipe, be ready to have your minds McTwisted.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This guy has been on snowboard movies knocking out amazing tricks since he was ten! It's incredible to see how he's gone on to fulfill his potential and stretch the sport further and expand it's reach. I can't wait to see what he pulls out in the final!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Shame you couldn't get the interview. One slight error though, that was Shaun's third gold in a row at X-Games (in half-pipe), not fifth.

    Can't wait for the interview with Gretchen, she's a really talented rider and always comes across as a down to earth person during interviews too.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    tylr01, that is a seriously large chip you have on your shoulder there. Whilst I can't disagree with you that we aren't exactly setting the World alight with the performances in the Winter Olympics your rant misses one very big point. You claim that the UK has been reduced to the precipice of irrelevance on the World stage and that they perhaps don't deserve to host such an event as the Summer Olympics. Would this be the same UK that performed above expectations in the 2008 in Beijing, finishing fourth in the medal table with 19 gold medals. The same UK that has produced a World Cup winning rugby team in 2003 and 2009, a cyclist finishing 4th in last years Tour de France to name but a few sporting accomplishments in the last decade. Whatever you have against the UK you really need to get over youreslf.

  • Comment number 5.

    tylr01, wow! You have a problem! Total lack of a wider vision.
    It barely snows in the UK. There are no proper ski runs in the UK. There are NO bob runs at all (yet we still have a world champion). The Winter Olympics are very different to the Summer Olympics, and as wrawilla says, we did pretty well at them. White is a great sportsman, why don't you appreciate that instead of moaning for the sake of moaning.

  • Comment number 6.

    I enjoyed reading the above comment by tylr01. Most of it is true and after watching Gillings in the snowboard cross, I agree starting with no intention of finishing is pathetic.

    However, gonna correct you on "Why does a country that fails to compete deserve the right to host the next Olympic games?"

    -As far as I know Britain has competed at every Olympics.
    -Britain came 4th out of the whole world at last Olympics.
    -Its about time, 1948 last time games were here.

  • Comment number 7.

    tylr01 Why stop there? How about criticising our national basketball, American football, handball and volleyball teams too... other sports in which we have a rich history and are renowned world beaters. Or is it a bit too early for that yet? Maybe save it until 2012.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Shaun White is one of the best snowboarders in the world, could you not have used a photo that accurately represented that?

  • Comment number 10.

    I feel very sorry for you tylr01.
    Your comment about Zoe Gillings is out of order. If you really believe that she absolutely failed to try and compete, this is very sad. It's not even worth commenting on. You have obviously never been injured and had this injury crush your hopes and dreams that you have worked so hard for.
    2008 Olympics, Great Britain finished a fantastic 4th overall with 19 golds, 13 silver and 15 bronze medals and you think we don't deserve to host on the world stage?
    You seem to be referring to all British sport in your comments. So reaching the latest Rugby World Cup final, having the current Formula 1 Champion, Quarter Finals of the last Football World Cup, currently ranked 5th in the world in both ODI and Test cricket, 3 of the World's top ten golfers are British... none of this means anything to you?
    We are not a nation that will excel at the Winter Olympics. We are not brought up in the Alps, we do not learn ice hockey at school, it is amazing that we have so many great athletes who compete in the Winter Olympics.
    Good on our athletes in all events, I support you whole-heartedly!!

  • Comment number 11.

    A more interesting article might have targeted the inclusion of Snowboarding in the Olympics at all. Since its first inclusion and Terje Haakonsens refusal to compete (The greates pipe rider of the time) many snowboarders have felt that the wearing of national uniforms, drug testing, and coaches run against everything snowboarding stands for. In 1998 the IOC essentially hijacked the sport from the ISF and handed it over to the FIS (Skiing) which had previosuly rejected it.

    To myself its inclusion makes little sense. Every snowboarder competing in the pipe will earn in excess of $1m dollars a year easy, they are by far and a way the best paid atheletes and train and live in a completely different world to the many other olympic athletes. If your goign to include Pipe then why not slopestyle or quarterpipe, Big air? I think the answer is that the progression and spectacle for these events would take away from other sports in the games. In addition noone considers the Olympic pipe winner to be defining within the sport. The TTR world snowboarding tour created in reaction to pipes olympic inclusion is the real bench mark and we already have the X games as an annul showcase. Two in fact now, one in the US and now for the first time in Tignes this year.

    However as much as I am confused by the whole fassade I will undoubtebly be watching it all live tonight. In fact I'm even having a house party to watch it. And i cannot argue that the sports omympic inclusion has not led to a rapid level of progression which has led to previosuly unthinkable combinations. Just check out the youtube footage of even Turin to compare. This is going to be the most intense and exciting event of the games.

  • Comment number 12.

    I can see where tylr01 is coming from, England can be very spineless when competeting on the world stage. There's very little sustainablility, we will be successful in something but fail to go on and build on it. eg England rugby

  • Comment number 13.

    Ashes 2005

  • Comment number 14.

    tylr01 - It seems you spend very little time looking outside of your own area. GB has had many successes, as outlined by other posters here. We aren't a great winter sport nation - in case you hadn't noticed, out weather system isn't the best for this. But so what?
    We do, however, like to recognise, admire and discuss people from, wait for it, other countries *gasp* that are a success in their sport. Surely, this is allowed. Just because you are unable to fairly judge what happens outside your own head, doesn't mean we are not.
    I suggest you check your facts before ranting off about what you clearly don't know anything about.

  • Comment number 15.

    tylr01, there is a major hole in your aurgument, Britain wins medals in cricket, the summer olympics,the rugby world cup and does alright in the football world cup.
    Canada and the US don't get any medals in the rugby and football world cup, and none in any cricket events. This is because they don't play the sports in their country. But, you don't claim that Canada doesn't deserve to host the winter olympics.

    You aurgument states that to host a sporting event, the host has to be competent in every single major sport.

    There is no country that can claim to be competent at every single sport.
    So, your aurgument basically states there should be no major sporting events such as world cups or the olmpics.

  • Comment number 16.

    Tidbit wrote: "many snowboarders have felt that ..., drug testing, ... run against everything snowboarding stands for."
    I hope your not suggesting all snowboarders are junkies?

  • Comment number 17.

    wrawilla,

    Really sorry mate but I have to point out that while England did win a rugby world cup in 2003 there was no world cup in 2009 (there was one in 2007 but this was won by South Africa).

    However, Sam's opinion of Tylr01 is word perfect & entirely accurate!!

  • Comment number 18.

    tylr01 - you are completely correct. we have no sporting heritage in this country, we have had no success at all in recent years and poor Zoe who has only spent the last 4 years dreaming of this day and based her whole life around the event couldnt be bothered competing.

    You are 100% spot on and in no way a WUM.

    Great post :-/

    P.S im absolutely certain that whatever you have been smoking/injecting will be illegal!

  • Comment number 19.

    Jenny Jones won the x-games the other week. Missed that one eh tylr01?

  • Comment number 20.

    Don't worry guys, I think this guy tylr01 is just upset about some of the British media and their comments on the Winter Olympics... Just have a look at the CBC. I'm just surprised he even bothered looking on the BBC if he hates this place so much...

    The blog is about one guy and one legend, anything else is immaterial.

  • Comment number 21.

    tylr01 is obviously a loser him/herself, so looks to blame/accuse others to make up for his/her own shortcomings.

  • Comment number 22.

    Second Year in a row wasn't it Rich?? Looks like tylr01 missed it twice

    Wholeheartedly agree with Sams comment!

  • Comment number 23.

    tylr01 - you are an extremely ill-informed individual. If you knew anything about snowboarding you would realise two things:
    1) by starting the small final Gillings secured herself 8th place, this would not have been guaranteed with a DNS rather than a DNF.
    2) If you had ever snowboarded (or undertaken any sport seriously for that matter) you would realise the courage/commitment required to take a vertical jump like that out of the start gate with an injured knee (she could not even walk unaided to the start gate)
    I feel sorry for your ignorance

  • Comment number 24.

    tylr01 and everyone who agrees with him...by all means go and live somewhere else and find another nation to support, we dont need you polluting our fine country. (andy murray, wayne rooney)

    agree with sleeping southerner...article is simply about 1 great sportsman.

  • Comment number 25.

    As Olly said, the article is simply about 1 great sportsman, and an ill informed rant from tylr01 shouldn't be allowed to detract from that.

    Like Tidbit mentioned, I too used to believe that snowboarders didn't really see the Olympics as the pinnacle of the event. However, given that Shaun White gave up the skateboard season completely this year, gave up slopestyle at the X-Games, had his own private pipe to practice and developed a whole range of new tricks specifically for the Olympics I'm not sure this is actually the case. Other riders like Gretchen Bleiler, Torah Bright etc have also made comments that suggest they do place the Olympics at the top as a unique event.

    Either way, I'm really looking forward to the pipe competitions over the next 2 days, and hope Shaun can land the unbelievable 1260 McTwist.

  • Comment number 26.

    'White is largely credited with progressing half-pipe snowboarding more in the past 12 months than anyone else has managed in the sport's history'

    This is not the case. White is a great halfpipe rider but Terje Haakonsen progressed halfpipe riding considerably more than White. Haakonsen also refused to compete in the Olympics in 1998 when he was pretty much a sure thing to win gold. One of the reasons was that the organisers of the snowboard events were a Ski governing body. He also believed the sport didn't belong in the Olympics. So he not only embodied talent but integrity as an athlete.

  • Comment number 27.

    ENOUGH SNOWBOARDING!
    The BBC has shown almost nothing else for the last two days. Youre showing the same race over and over again, I turn to check the other channel, youre showing it there too. ENOUGH.

  • Comment number 28.

    White is undoubtably a massive talent and has pushed the boundaries of what is achievable. The fact he's done this in two disciplines is frankly amazing.

    So much of snowboarding (the culture, style, tricks..) come from skateboarding, it's strange that skate halfpipe isn't in the summer olympics by now and it's a far more accessible sport (compared with snowboarding) for kids to aspire to. Maybe White will pioneer a change of policy?

  • Comment number 29.

    tylr01...

    Haha you could pretty much turn your comment around and it would be true.

    Great Britain punches well above its weight in almost all sports. The winter olympics is the most irrelevant competition in history. Who cares about a competition in which HALF of the world doesnt competer because they have NO SNOW.

    And lets not forget we invented most sports. I hope you enjoy playing them. Try not to be too bitter ay chap. Chin up!

  • Comment number 30.

    well my last comment has been removed, but I stand by it.

    In my opinion it was a lot less offensive and disruptive than tylr01's original post anyway (and to be honest if I knew it'd be removed for that I'd have used a much better swearword).

  • Comment number 31.

    I have some tissues for tylr01 to dry his eyes after his paddy.

    I love British sport, the way we whip ourselves up into a blurred frenzy of support for underdog and favourite alike, how there is nothing more exciting that doing one over on our long term rivals regardless of sport (mainly Australia) and nothing more dissapointing than when the reverse happens.

    Tylr01 there are coffee mornings all over the uk and debating halls where your nonsensical drivel would be applauded, but not here on the sporting pages of the BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION

  • Comment number 32.

    Festa3, how wrong you are.

    Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I believe England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 in it's 15 man form and Wales won the Sevens Rugby World Cup in 2009. Therefore the UK produced to Rugby World Champions in the last decade, just in two different forms of the game.

  • Comment number 33.

    Tylr01 And his merry band of followers all need to brush the chips from their shoulders and drink a wholesome bowl of positive soup! Being so negative must be really hard work!
    I am proud of our nation when it comes to sports. At least they get out there and try instead of spreading bad vibes on Internet sites!
    Maybe ye should go watch that film about the south african rugby team!
    If only I could be a tenth as good on my snowboard i'd be delighted!

  • Comment number 34.

    While Shaun's dominance of the sport is incredibly impressive and the progression he has sparked is admirable it's a shame that few other riders are enjoying the spoils of the success snowboarding can afford the top competitors on the circuit. Red Bull spent hundreds of thousands on building him his own superpipe at his home mountain and i can't help but feel sorry for other riders putting in the hard graft and watching White dominate after a winter's training in his private park. I'm hoping for an upset this year as a result!

    Just to continue my complaint. The exclusion of Freeski halfpipe is a terrible oversight by the IOC. Anyone who follows the freeski circuit will know that the sport has all but overtaken boarding in terms of technicality and amplitude in the pipe over the last couple of years. Just type Simon Dumont or Tanner Hall into a search engine and have a look at what they're capable of. Kevin Rolland threw down a run that included three variations on the double flip last month at the Winter X Games during his winning run the pipe contest and in the big air two tricks were landed that had never been pulled in competition before, skiing or snowboarding. A glaring mistake from the IOC in my opinion, hopefully freeskiing's rapid growth will continue and in four years time it will be impossible to ignore.

  • Comment number 35.

    Joe Calzaghe, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, David Haye.... British and not too shabby

  • Comment number 36.

    Completely agree, ski half-pipe is a glaring admission, but at least they have added skier cross this year, so maybe in another 4 years they might have caught up with the times! We may even get slopestyle by 2018...

  • Comment number 37.

    Look foward to watching White and everyone else on the halfpipe.

    As for the comments about UK sport its all about geography and population as well as a little bit of our negative culture on self-belief. But we do have sports we are great at, such as wind powered sports, beacuse our geography lends itself making a perfect training ground.

  • Comment number 38.

    dazzleh, glad you agree. Fingers crossed for slopestyle in there. Just a shame so many of the riders pushing the sport ahead of snowboarding won't even be in contention by the time 2018 comes around. Hopefully Bobby Brown will get a chance to throw the now famous sw double misty 1440 in the Olympics one day!

  • Comment number 39.

    A McTwist is a front flip 540, not a back flip. Hideously pedantic, I know, but if we're going to be listing tricks let's at least do it right.

  • Comment number 40.

    As a snowboarder who enjoys getting out on 2 planks. I found the Big Air and slopestyle more enjoyable to watch at this years x-games...with some amazing tricks being thrown and stomped. But after watching SW smash himself in training then come back to lay down what he did in half pipe....you have to admire the guy for a what he is. He's the best at what he does!

    Personally i don't think the Half Pipe/Slopestyle type contest have a place in the Olympics...but the money men do, so that's why they are in! Much better to have a World Cup once a year that's hosted by different resorts around the world and not just Aspen.
    The Boarder/Skier X can stay though what a fantastic event...even better that a little of pushing and shoving is allowed and nobody complains if they get taken out, its just the way it is!

    As for Zoe...I'm sure she tried her best and will be gutted with only finishing 8th, but she needn't be disappointed. Still a fantastic result for the girl from Manx! I think in the next 10 years the kids will start coming through, we now have indoor Snowdomes (although not great for racing are perfect for slopestyle tricks and kickers.

    As for British Sport...here's to a summer of World Cup Football and a winter of Ashes Cricket...oh I can feel the clouds of disappointment looming already :). Makes you proud...I'm off for a cuppa tea and a slice of Victoria sponge.

  • Comment number 41.

    It seems to me that a lot of this anger is coming from someone who is a frustrated British sports fan who wants to see sucess. Everyone wants to see sucess for Britain but when it comes to winter sports, it aint gonna happen as much as other sports. We just aint as well prepared as other cuntries for reasones beyond our control.

    I also get the sense that people feel the BBC are biased towards British atletes. Well we're not as biased as a certain country i'm in at the moment. Its only their athletes almost.

  • Comment number 42.

    Well, the tyler's guy's comment has been deleted, but on the subject of Britain and sport...

    We are a maritime nation and also a bunch of fantastic sailors!! From Ellen MacArthur breaking round the world records to Ben Ainslie and our other Olympic gold medal winning dinghy sailors (and medal winning windsurfers!), one thingis obvious. We might not be good at much else, but Britannia certainly does rule the waves!

    On the subject of SW - lucky guy. People may resent him for money and private halfpipe etc, but he has more guts than me, I would never try any of that stuff :-/

    Gr8wyte, I felt like cheering after your post :D

    I know the BBC are supposed to be impartial but I think we're allowed to be biased towards our own atheletes... national pride and interest and all that... plus the 'British' part of British Broadcasting Corporation.

  • Comment number 43.

    Forgot to add my views on our winter sports competing. Good on everyone for tying, at least. The mountainous countries have advantages over us that go far beyond the mountains themselves. Mainly the attitude towards skiing. Over there, it is a normal thing, something they will do for PE, something everyone does. Here it is seen as a pursuit of the rich, snobby and famous. Also, we have zilch funding, help from the government etc. Even though we have snow up in Scotland, how are we supposed to find champions when the funding and the attitude isn't in place to catch kids and get them into the sport?

    Just imagine how many people may discover a passion and talent for the sport if schools took classes skiing once a month, as a regular thing?*

    *can also apply to snowboarding!

  • Comment number 44.

    Gr8Wyte wrote:

    "I love British sport, the way we whip ourselves up into a blurred frenzy of support for underdog and favourite alike, how there is nothing more exciting that doing one over on our long term rivals regardless of sport (mainly Australia) and nothing more dissapointing than when the reverse happens."

    Isn't it more typical for support to wane when a British athlete, or anyone else for that matter, becomes successful?

    And the "doing one over" remark sounds more about hostility and smugness instead of simply seeking success and perfection in order to succeed in a sport.

    "Tylr01 there are coffee mornings all over the uk and debating halls where your nonsensical drivel would be applauded, but not here on the sporting pages of the BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION"

    I didn't get to read that person's remarks but why not let someone have their own opinions and agree to disagree? Sorry, but I would bet the way people here have formed a sort of wolf pack against this individual is more offensive then that person's remarks that were removed.

 

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