In the world of snowboarding, nobody is more intimidating than Shaun White, who has the uncanny ability to pull off the impossible when the pressure is on. It’s why he has two Olympic gold medals, 12 Winter X Games gold medals, and a reputation as the boarder to beat in virtually every competition.
Much like the old Tiger Woods, the pre-scandal Woods whose aura on a golf course would force weaker opponents to crumble under pressure, White seems to thrive in the spotlight. And like Woods, White can get under the competition’s skin by playing mind games.
X Games writer Alyssa Roenigk suggested that if you win the mind games, you win the X Games, and nobody is better at it than White.
“Any great athlete is strategic, and Shaun is one of the greatest,” X Games snowboard analyst Keir Dillon told Roenigk. Dillon competed against White in the halfpipe until 2007.
“Shaun is great at not showing his hand. That’s why he practices when no one’s around. That’s why he rents his own pipes and foam pits. Whether it’s using scare tactics or talking about tricks he has in order to make other riders panic and learn a trick they think they need in order to beat him–even if they don’t–it’s a game of chess. And Shaun is one of the best ever at it.”
For instance, recent video surfaced purporting to be White landing a triple cork in a slopestyle training run. Turns out, it was him, but he never confirmed it.
“It’s hard to describe, but everything kinda goes into this weird mind game,” White told Roenigk, who asked if that meant he plays mind games with himself or with his competitors?
“I guess both,” he responded.
“I remember winning a contest two times and I had the two trophies on my shelf. I was like, ‘It doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. I’ve gotta have a third.’ It’s a lot easier to win this little trophy than to be the best snowboarder in the world. Bring it down to something obtainable and it’s easy.”
When talking about the top competition in slopestyle–Mark McMorris (last year’s Winter X gold medalist in slopestyle and big air),Torstein Horgmo, Seb Toutant, Stale Sandbech, and Sage Kostenburg–White claims he doesn’t even know their names. Ask about McMorris, Roenigk writes, and White will say he doesn’t really know who you’re talking about.
“That is a complete mind game,” McMorris told Roenigk. “He knows my name. For sure. … I don’t care, though. If I land what I can do, my name shouldn’t be a question.”
Let the mind games begin.
The slopestyle final is Saturday afternoon, incidentally.
Photo of Shaun White in the superpipe at last year’s Winter X Games courtesy of ESPN Winter X Games; photo of Mark McMorris on the victory stand at 2012 Winter X courtesy of Snowboarder magazine, Mike Yoshida.