Snowboarder Shaun White’s new Olympic reality: It’s no cakewalk


The bride had red hair, so who was going to look twice when the world’s most famous snowboarder found his place at the table, had a piece of cake and ended up slow-dancing with the woman in the wedding gown?

Olympic gold medalist Shaun White . . . wedding crasher?

Pretty funny when his day job is all about avoiding crashes.

“I just said I was Uncle Ned’s kid,” White said, laughing, making a reference to the movie “Wedding Crashers.”

(Hmm . . . maybe Owen Wilson, with a hair-color switch to red, does play White in the Shaun White movie.)

White, actually, was invited to the wedding last summer after he met the couple earlier in the day at Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

The wedding party was an example of White’s way of finding fun during a rough, introspective period when he was recovering from an ankle injury, a chipped bone. It happened when White was learning the Double McTwist in the foam pit in Colorado.

“This was a tough, tough season because I couldn’t go skateboarding,” he said in an interview here with The Times. “And I’ll tell you, I was losing my mind. I couldn’t skate. I couldn’t walk around too well.”

For the 23-year-old White, the summer’s discontent did not carry over into winter, at least not with any significant staying power, as he is preparing for his halfpipe gold-medal defense at the Olympics in Vancouver.

He suffered a rare loss, to Danny Davis, this month at a Grand Prix event in Mammoth, and responded by winning the final three Olympic qualifiers, most notably landing a Double McTwist 1260 in the final two competitions, both at Park City, Utah.

Here, at ESPN’s Winter X Games, White said he landed an even bigger 1260 in practice Wednesday at Buttermilk Mountain. He then went out and won the superpipe final on Friday night -- a deeply satisfactory ending, after a scary start in which he scraped his face and lost his helmet in a hard fall during a practice run.

Give a quiet assist to Davis.

Davis is looming large even though he won’t be one of the competitors for Olympic gold at Cypress Mountain, having had season-ending back surgery after an ATV crash in Utah.

His close friend Kevin Pearce, once viewed as a top threat to White, remains hospitalized in Salt Lake City, having suffered a severe brain injury in practice in late December.

This leaves American teammate Louie Vito as, perhaps, the main obstacle between White and a second Olympic gold medal.

“Shaun’s backside double cork 12 is sick,” Vito said. “It’s a good look for the U.S. But you never know. You look at Massachusetts; you know who they just elected into office. You never know what’s going to happen.”

“You never know” happened to White on Jan. 6, about two weeks before Republican Scott Brown won election to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. White looked angry after losing at Mammoth -- not wanting to talk to the media -- and got even more irritated after crashing hard on a practice run afterward.

“I usually whine for the first four or five hours,” he said. “It slowly turns into something else, motivates me never to feel that way again. It’s something I just do. I’m not really mad. I’m just frustrated.

“If you do a trick and it doesn’t work out, that can stick with you. I like to go back, nail the trick, and, ‘OK, I’m cool, it’s all good.’

“That time it was unfortunate because the outcome of that was even worse than the first one. I dazed my head pretty good. My neck is still pretty tweaked. That was the second of three hits I’ve taken to my neck, same spot, same everything.”

Sore neck and all, White changed his plans and caught an earlier flight to Park City. Forget about a couple of rest days. The clean path of preparation, like the one he had in the run-up to Turin in 2006, was decidedly bumpy now.

“I’ll come clean, I’ve changed my run like 10 times so far,” White said. “When I was doing the Olympics, the last time around, I had the same run, just a little bit tweaked for each event, and I won every time, I put the run down.

“Then Danny beats me. I was like, ‘Dude.’ I was doing six hits, dropped it to five . . . started going way bigger and linking different tricks together and trying to add in the double McTwist as a new trick to the arsenal. I didn’t know I needed it until Danny beat me.”

This was just another illustration of the sport’s moving with uncommon speed, the line in the snow getting redrawn seemingly every month or so. “Last season, we weren’t doing one double cork and now we’re doing three in a run,” White said. “And one is a 1260.”

The 2006 gold medal not only made White the most commercially successful snowboarder, it helped him transcend the sport.

White became the celebrity whom other celebrities sought out for lunch or for snowboarding lessons.

His agent got a phone call from a woman who wanted White to go snowboarding with her and her husband. That would be tennis stars Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi.

“You know what, he’s gonna hate me, but Steffi was almost better,” White said. “She was good, man. She was good. He was having some back issues and trying to go for it.”

It’s easier for White to talk about sports legends other than himself. The legacy talk makes him vaguely uncomfortable.

“I try not to think about it because it would somewhat wreck the moment,” White said. “I remember I was landing these double corks in Colorado and my buddy was like, ‘This is the time of our lives. Dude, we’re making history right now!’

“I’m like, ‘All right, man , I hope so. Let’s get through this first and let me land some more stuff.’ ”