Shaun White 3.0: Fit, focused, fired up at 30
ASPEN, Colo. -- This time, the question came to Shaun White from an airplane pilot, though the pilot was hardly the first one to ask it of late: Are you still riding?
The answer: hell yes.
White turned 30 last fall, and anyone who tuned out after his stunning loss at the Olympics in Russia missed the start of a reboot that may feel more like a comeback story. Back at the Winter X Games this year, the two-time Olympic champion has refocused his business, his training and his fitness for a run at next year's games.
"I decided at 29 that if I was going to go for it, I should step it up, invest in myself," White said. "I got inspired."
The inspiration came after watching a documentary on Bjorn Borg and seeing that the tennis champion's laser focus on fitness and winning involved surrounding himself with an entire team, not just the occasional trainer and physical therapist. It also involved the soul-searching realization that, as great as the first 15 years of his career had been, they came mainly thanks to raw talent, not any huge physical commitment he'd made.
White has increased the frequency of his training sessions from around two a week to two a day, four or five times a week. He has a new coach, J.J. Thomas, who knocked White off the U.S. Olympic team in 2002, then went on to win bronze as part of a 1-2-3 U.S. sweep in the Salt Lake Games.
White has a new clothing line (sold at Macy's, not Target) and a new house in Malibu, California.
His band, Bad Things, drifted apart and, now, White is learning to play the piano and sing.
He blew up his Instagram account and started over, taking the overwhelming number of sponsor-based posts out of the mix and getting back to more visually enticing fare he thinks his fans really want to see. (See above)
It's all part of a more streamlined, and arguably more lucrative, business plan that focuses on three key elements: a revamping of his fitness and training, his co-ownership of Mammoth Mountain, the resort where he grew up riding, and his purchase of Air & Style, a Big Air-music-art festival with stops in China, Europe and Los Angeles that could someday be part of the Olympic qualifying rotation.
The reason for the reboot?
"After the Olympics, it's rough," he said. "Even if you win, it's still ... everything revolves around this looming thing in the distance, and then it's gone. Things don't have as much purpose."
About those Olympics: White deals candidly with the most high-profile failure of his career.
His fourth-place finish in the halfpipe stemmed from being taken completely out of his routine. Part of that was the logistics of competing in Russia; a bigger part was self-inflicted -- White's decision to compete in halfpipe and slopestyle turned the run-up to the games into a strength-sapping marathon that even he could not endure. He'll only be on the halfpipe this time around.
"I got some peace of mind, though," he said, "because the worst thing you could think of happened, and I was still here. I was still alive."
Which takes us back to the "Are you still riding?" question. Fact is, White won every contest he entered in 2016 and, in one contest, jumped higher than ever above the pipe. That skill is one of the many elements of halfpipe riding in which he still has no equal. But since it didn't come at the Olympics or the X Games, it barely registered a blip in the mainstream.
This week, White says his main goal is to compete in the biggest event this side of the Olympics. He'll be on the halfpipe Thursday, trying for a 14th gold medal at X Games Aspen 2017, his first since 2013.
His new success has come under the watch of his new coach, Thomas, who, when asked who could beat White, answered simply: "Himself. It's a matter of him staying healthy and staying happy."
All of that appears very much on track.
"The moral of the story is about gaining control over everything I'm doing and having purpose and having vision," White said. "From competing in events, to owning my own series to owning my own mountain. I'm 30. Thirty. It's hitting pretty heavy."