Published February 11, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Shaun White dropped his iPhone onto the table as David Bowie's "Young Americans" blasted out of the tiny speakers.
Then the world's most famous snowboarder took off his blue Team USA jacket and, with his teammates watching, shimmied over to the refreshment table in the cramped green room.
They couldn't help but laugh as the 23-year-old with the iconic red hair finished his impromptu dance while making a cup of tea before meeting the press Thursday. Hey, it's not often White lets loose, particularly with the guys he spends most of the year trying to beat.
Being the best in the world is a sometimes lonely experience for White, who has built an empire since winning gold in the halfpipe at Turin four years ago and becoming known as the Flying Tomato.
He often trains by himself in the Colorado mountains, on a halfpipe built by Red Bull, one of his main sponsors. He usually stays by himself during regular competitions, and will spend the next few days in a separate house from his teammates to grab a few moments of sanity before the games begin.
"I do things very differently, even where sometimes I feel like everybody is at the pipe and there's so much going on and it's really distracting and it's really tough to focus," White said.
Nonetheless, White seems at ease in the spotlight. While some of his teammates fiddled with their microphones in front of the mass of reporters, White riffed on everything from his newest trick to the state of the sport.
He says he's just a normal guy who worries about girls and his wardrobe, just like his teammates. Maybe, but he's the only member of the team who had his own public-relations representative at his side on Thursday. The only one "Access Hollywood" tried to catch a glimpse of as he tried to make his plaid scarf look just so before stepping onto the stage. The only one with the household nickname.
Though White like to clarify something. The Flying Tomato is so 2006. He's got a new moniker handed out by talk show host Conan O'Brien, who called him "Animal" during a recent appearance.
The name is a reference to the wild-haired Muppets character who thrashes away on the drums. Considering the way White flips, spins and twists his way down the halfpipe, there's more than a passing resemblance.
"The Animal has become my thing here," he said.
Yet he's making an impact beyond catchy nicknames, merchandising and gold medals. He's also helping pull the sport into the future thanks to his newest trick, which he calls the Double McTwist 1260.
White has called it "my best friend and worst enemy," and the relationship has been rocky since he started working on the maneuver, which requires him to flip twice while twisting three and a half times.
He chipped a bone in his ankle last spring, then wowed crowds in Park City, Utah, last month when he nailed it in competition for the first time. A week later at the X Games, he smacked his face on the icy pipe while trying to nail it in practice, then stepped back onto the pipe the next day and drilled it to take gold.
Though he'd probably be a heavy medal favorite even without it, White feels it's important to the sport to show the world his signature move despite the danger.
"I feel confident with that trick," he said. "It's such an amazing thing that I feel like somewhat disappointed if I didn't keep it in the run."
It's a trick nobody else in the world can do and one he honed in seclusion — a method that seems foreign to his teammates, who include Greg Bretz, Scotty Lago and "Dancing with the Stars" alum Louie Vito.
"I don't share that same theory as Shaun, but I think that's what separates him and maybe makes him so good," Lago said.
The isolation is nothing new. White is so focused on winning he admits he puts his competitors at a distance. On Thursday, he spent 30 minutes before the press conference sitting outside the green room fiddling with his phone while his teammates hung out inside. He eventually made his way in and cut a few jokes.
White is trying to embrace the idea of being on a team, at least until they hit the halfpipe Feb. 17. White spent Wednesday night in the Olympic Village with his teammates, collecting pins from foreign athletes and sticking them on his credential lanyard. He had the option of moving out Thursday, but planned to stick around one more night.
The team apparently has a plan for waking the neighbors on Friday morning: a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
White figures to be on lead guitar, and maybe that's fitting. He's been alone at the front so long, he's used to the view.