Published February 17, 2010
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The fans were waiting. Shaun White could see them packed in the stands at the bottom of the hill ready for snowboarding's greatest showman — all of 23 years old — to go do his thing.
Only he couldn't. Not for a minute anyway.
His second Olympic halfpipe gold medal already won, White turned to U.S. Snowboarding coach Mike Jankowski and told him, "I can't snowboard right now."
So he didn't.
He flew instead.
Laying down a victory lap for the ages, White put an exclamation point on the most successful day in U.S. Winter Olympics history Wednesday by landing — barely — his latest invention: the Double McTwist 1260.
White has renamed the trick — which requires him to cram two board-over-head flips inside of 3½ turns — "The Tomahawk."
Another word for it: impossible.
He'd kept it out of his first run intentionally, opting for a safer routine that helped him post a score of 46.8, a number none of the other 11 riders in the final came close to challenging.
Yet he hadn't done all that work, sacrificed all those hours, dealt with all that pain to stop now.
The competition was over. The world was watching.
With Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City" blasting over the speakers, White knew it was time to rock the house.
His blue bandanna replete with white stars — which perfectly match his iconic red locks — flapping in the wind, White provided the signature moment of his singular career, one that will live on no matter how fast, how far or how high the sport expands.
"I like to put on a show and show everybody what I can do," White said.
And nobody does it better.
"It's impossible to beat Shaun unless he falls," said silver medalist Peetu Piioroinen of Finland.
No chance. Not on this day. Not with the chance to show the outside world — the one that's criticized the sport for being too dangerous following a serious injury to star Kevin Pearce two months ago — that the risk is worth the reward.
"Tonight was about pulling all the stops on my last run and doing something that's never been done before," White said.
It's what propels him. Winning isn't enough anymore. He wants to be at the forefront, propelling snowboarding into the future.
"Shaun's a living legend with what he's done already and with what he's going to continue to do and really push this sport to the next level," Jankowski said. "It's the All-American way. It's being a pioneer and taking those steps into the unknown."
White has already been doing that for years, becoming a household name after winning gold in Turin four years ago. Then he was the fresh-faced 19-year-old with the retro-hip nickname: "the Flying Tomato."
He's since moved on to "The Animal," though he admits he longs for a day when he doesn't need a gimmicky moniker. He's managed to become a multimillionaire, complete with a clothing line and a video game.
And he's figured out a way to make the move into the corporate world while maintaining credibility within his sport.
Teammate Scotty Lago, who finished a somewhat surprising third, called White one of the most "dedicated and focused" people he knows.
White needed the focus following a rare loss to Danny Davis in January. Davis put together a run so perfect White opted to skip some downtime with his family in California to head to Utah and put the finishing touches on "The Tomahawk."
He'd been working on the trick for a year, injuring his ankle in the process, before unveiling it in Park City last month. He posted scores of 49 and 49.5 — within a point of perfection — that weekend.
A few days later, the trick White says is his "best friend and worst enemy" paid him back. He suffered a vicious wipeout at the Winter X Games when his face hit the deck in practice. He bounced back hours later to win gold.
It was sweet. But it wasn't the Olympics, a fact he emphasized with his teammates last week.
Walking into the opening ceremony with Olympic newcomers Lago, Greg Bretz and Louie Vito, White waved his hands at the pomp and circumstance and said, "this isn't the X Games, is it?"
Even for a veteran, there were jitters. White simply tried to survive his qualifying heat, putting together a conservative run so he could focus on the finals.
Once there, he was all business. Then he sat at the top of the hill and watched as the rest of the field took its best shot.
Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikova — the "I-Pod" — one of White's top challengers, said it would take three "Double Corks" to challenge White. He didn't even get off two in the finals. And really, it likely wouldn't have been enough anyway.
"He can do even better, seriously, he can do better," Podladtchikova said. "I'm pretty stoked. He rode super high and super stylish. I like to watch that."
So does everyone else.
When's the show going to end? Not anytime soon. White says he likely has another Olympics in him and will take some time to focus on the skateboarding, surfing and learning a few new cords on his guitar.
White's celebration put the cap on a remarkable day for the United States in Vancouver. Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso went 1-2 in the women's downhill while Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick finished first and third in the men's 1000-meter speedskating.
Combined with White and Lago's medals, the U.S. won six in all, one more than it collected on Feb. 20, 2002 during the Salt Lake games.
But Vonn and Davis — actually, hardly anyone really — have ever enjoyed a victory lap like White's. He didn't disappoint. Who knows what's next?
"We try to break the boundaries and see what we can do," he said. "I think we're just tapping into what is possible. I wish I could predict the future. We have to go create it. It's a cool position to be in."