The Block Island Times

Go big, or go home sans a gold medal

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Feb 12, 2014
Courtesy of: Jim Dempsey Cruising the geezer terrain of Bretton Woods, 2000

Olympic snowboarder Shaun White did not fulfill his goal at Sochi. He made the decision to bow out of the Slope Style event—and play it safe—so he could medal in the Half Pipe. It didn't happen. He talked a good game, but when it really mattered for him to just charge the whole deal and lay it all on the line, he balked. Then, the young Turks smelled fear, and they went big. It's the natural order of things.

Shaun White got smacked by the mountain gods at Sochi this week. Not only did he not get to the podium, but he also lost some cred. He was humbled not by the less than perfect half pipe conditions, but by life itself, which is a road of many twists and turns–and pitfalls. As much as we mortals desire to control outcomes, it's life as it is, that has the final say. Shaun White made it known months back that he had some "new things," to show us at Sochi. He practiced at his private half pipe in some backcountry hideout, accessible only by heliocopter–sexy stuff. He would compete in 2 different events and wanted to medal in both–heady stuff, ambitious stuff.

(Mountains, gravity, age, and a Pu Pu Platter of other life events can trip us up; we're all on a slippery slope. At the tender age of fifty I took up snowboarding; got worked like a pack mule, busted up my shoulder, my wrists and knees. My participation in the sport was guarded, because of the whole work and responsible parent thing. I was not a pro, but just a shmo named Joe jamming down the hills having a blast! Hell, I even pushed myself, and charged some Black Diamonds at Bretton Woods. Damn, I loved that sport; however, my body was showing wear. A serious fall on the ice at Waterville Valley, was my cue to just stick with sailing, bike riding and forklift driving; humbling stuff–life stuff.)

Shaun White is a very big Kahuna in this sport, which evolved from a cadre of outliers, designers, and boundary breaking characters. Jake Burton was first allowed to ride Mt. Stratton, when other areas forbid this maverick on their hills. Undaunted, Burton pushed forward. Snowboarding evolved from this humble beginning; it was subversive, an outlaw thing. Shaun came into this sport when it was all about breaking down the walls of convention and throwing down. At Sochi, when it all boiled down to going big, and risking it all, he chose to hold back.(Maybe his handlers made the dicision.)

There is no doubt of Shaun White's athleticism and skill; however, at Sochi, his first run went awry. Then, life happened in one second, and he hit the lip of the pipe. His second run had its moments, but failed to impress the judges. (I still can't believe his board didn't snap; way to go Jake Burton!) The young Turks observed this little slice of life's slippery slope in real time. Moreover, in their heart of hearts, these guys knew the competitive paridigm had just shifted, and it was now their time. It was life as it was supposed to be. At Sochi this year, it was what it was, for Olympian Shaun White–life stuff.

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