Winning Doesn't Get Old For Shaun White
ASPEN, Colo. -- You would think it might get old. You would think after six straight years of coming to the X Games and dominating the competition that winning would get rather boring for Shaun White. The medal ceremonies, the interviews, the news conferences, the pictures, the autographs -- it would all just seem rather tedious year after year after year.
But there was White late Sunday night, some 45 minutes after winning his sixth straight SuperPipe gold, with his medal hanging from his neck and an ultra-wide grin stuck to his face. When a stranger casually asked how he was doing, White responded with a sarcastic, "I think I'm all right."
He was better than all right. In the last event of X Games Aspen, he posted the two highest scores of the night -- a 95 and a 98 -- and his 24-foot, 1-inch air in his second run was the highest for an X Games snowboarder. Not only was it White's sixth straight gold in the event, but it was his 23rd overall X Games medal and his 15th gold, also a record.
"Six is a lot. That's a big number," he said. "I'm going to be even more uncomfortable next year going for the seventh. It's a humbling title to hold. I'm proud of what I've done."
What made this gold extra special is that it came on the heels of Saturday's bitter disappointment in the Slopestyle final. In that event, much had been made about White butting heads with 19-year-old Canadian Mark McMorris. But while McMorris soared to gold, White fell on two of his three runs and failed to medal, finishing a disappointing fifth.
One night later, he was flawless, reminding the world why he is largely considered the greatest competitive snowboarder to ever live.
"I don't think I've ever been more focused on what I'm doing physically and mentally," White said. "I used to get so super-stressed out and would have lost control if something would have happened like Slopestyle the other day. But now I'm old enough to turn that into a positive. I take that and use it to help me take a giant step forward."
On Sunday, White's jumps averaged 16 feet of air, five feet more than the competition. At his post-event news conference, he jokingly credited the 10 inches he recently cut from his hair for his extra amplitude.
"I don't know, less drag maybe? White said.
Whatever the explanation, White made it look easy. You didn't need to understand what a cab double cork 1080 or backside double McTwist 1260 is to appreciate White's performance. This was Michael Jordan with a basketball. Ted Williams with a bat. Or Jack Nicklaus with a golf club. When you see greatness, you know it.
This was a man versus boys. Literally. When 14-year-old Japanese newcomer Ayumu Hirano energized the crowd with his silver-medal-winning second run that earned him a 92.33, White responded with his 98.
It was a near identical run to the one that earned White a perfect score of 100 at X Games 2012. White thought this year's run was even better. Fellow competitor Greg Bretz agreed.
"He came up and told me this blew last season out of the water," White said. "It's cool when the competitors say things like that."
So why didn't White get a perfect score? Did he feel like the judges were harder on him Sunday?
"I think they're hard on everyone," he said. "That makes you bring your best performance."
White's quest for six was undoubtedly helped by the fact that his main competitor, Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov, withdrew prior to the competition because of a stomach virus. He texted White before the final began, apologizing that he wouldn't be there.
"I was bummed," White said. "Not only for the fact that I like to compete against him -- it's nice when everyone brings their A game -- but I know what it's like to have to pull out of an event."
With his main competition sidelined, the event essentially felt like a coronation. And that's exactly how White treated it. At one point in practice, the normally ultra-focused, fiercely competitive White hopped atop the SuperPipe wall and high-fived with a few fans before unleashing a double cork.
And after his second run all but locked up the gold, he removed his helmet, goggles and facemask then slowly grazed through the athlete corral, where he was mobbed by screaming fans. White stopped for multiple photos before heading to the top of the mountain for his final run.
"I was just excited," he said. "When I got that huge score I felt like that pretty much locked it up for me. My only way to get through those things is to tell them I need to take a run and I'll come back. But I wasn't sure I'd be back so I stopped. It was cool. There were dads with kids on their shoulders. That's what makes this so much fun."
Before that last run, White looked into the camera, held up six fingers and bobbed his head up and down. As he casually made his way down the SuperPipe one last time, covered in black from head to toe, AC/DC's "Back in Black" blared through the speakers.
But as great as the moment was, White knows his work has just begun. The Olympics are a little more than a year away and White fully expects that many of the tricks he performed in the SuperPipe on Sunday night will be outdated come Sochi. So just like he did before Vancouver, White won't skateboard this summer in order to fully focus on snowboarding.
"Obviously," he said, "I need to go practice some Slopestyle."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.