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Shaun White's whistle-stop golden tour

Half-pipe highlights - White soars to gold

By Aimee Lewis

Shaun White whizzes into the room, followed by a cameraman, photographers and a flank of assistants.

It is an entrance befitting of one of the most recognisable athletes on the planet - one who has just won Olympic gold with the most mesmerising, gravity-defying performance of the 2010 Winter Games.

The 23-year-old American flew into London from Chicago a couple of hours ago and is surprisingly full of energy, in snowboarding circles they would probably say he was pumped.

I'm glad the Olympics are over - man, I was stressed!

Shaun White

Wearing skinny black jeans and a tight black t-shirt, the diminutive Californian looks more like a rock star than a double gold medal-winning snowboarder, and his long, wavy auburn mane (which is in enviable condition) only adds to the image of him being perfectly at home on stage alongside his idols AC/DC or Guns N' Roses.

White is on the first of a five-day European tour which, as well as Britain, will see him visit Italy, France, Germany and Austria in an attempt to satisfy, and no doubt capitalise on, the worldwide interest in him.

White takes a seat, sips a glass of water and, with a huge smile, tells BBC Sport: "It's been bizarre, I can't explain it.

"Every day there's a new update ... so and so want to do this and you're going to be on the cover on that magazine. Everything has snowballed so much."

For those not in the know, White won gold in the men's half-pipe last Wednesday on a floodlit Cypress Mountain.

Shaun White
It makes me sick to even think about it, but if I'd have fallen on both runs... I can't imagine going to the grocery store

Shaun White

In truth, he did more than win. He scored 46.8 out of a possible 50 points on his opening run - a total no other athlete could better given two attempts.

His second run, with victory secure, was even better, with his very last move - his signature Double McTwist (a double back flip while spinning around three-and-a-half times) - causing an eruption of whoops, hollers, and hi-fives all around Vancouver.

His rivals did not come close to challenging him, with silver medallist Peetu Piiroinen of Finland admitting: "It's impossible to beat Shaun unless he falls".

Indeed, White the showman knocked the talent show 'American Idol' into second place in the US television ratings, while some have said his performance will live as long in the memory as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's perfect Bolero routine in 1984.

White admits that the last week has been a blur of television appearances, from Oprah to Larry King - and he has even rung the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Far from being weary of talking about his achievement, however, the ebullient White says he is excited at the prospects of regaling his tales to the world.

"It's such a rare thing to even be on an Olympic team, to just go and compete and win a medal," he says.

"It's just fun to talk about things. Nobody knew that each medal was part of a big picture, or that we all stayed in a village.

White talks fame, tricks and puppy love

"But I'm glad the Olympics are over. Man, I was stressed! Every single time I would get on a bus or car there'd be somebody with a camera saying - 'you're the one to beat'.

"I was supposed to win, it's hard to have that and go and compete because it's extra pressure.

"It makes me sick to even think about it, but if I'd have fallen on both runs... I can't imagine going to the grocery store."

In the US at least, White's golden achievement in Vancouver seems to have catapulted him into another stratosphere of celebrity which only A-listers inhabit. Not that fame is a new phenomenon to the snowboarding prodigy.

He admits that he has been the "guy to watch out for" ever since he turned professional at the age of 13.

White, or to use his preferred nickname, 'The Animal', began skiing aged four but such was his fearlessness on the slopes that his mother, Cathy, encouraged him to snowboard in the hope it would slow him down.

She should have known better, because merely a year later White earned his first sponsorship deal, then turned professional and two Olympic snowboard half-pipe gold medals and a ski-lift full of X-Games medals have followed.

Inevitably, such success on the white stuff has brought financial rewards off it as sponsors have clamoured for his signature.

White has his own clothing line, while his eponymous video games have sold about three million copies worldwide. Forbes magazine estimated that White earned $9m (£5.83m) in 2008 from his endorsements.

One of his sponsors even built White his own private half-pipe (500ft long and 22ft deep) so the superstar could hone his mind-blowing manoeuvres.

White admits that the vast sums of money ploughed into the sport because of its growing popularity has allowed snowboarders, and him in particular, to push the boundaries, although he does add that there is "probably" a limit to what tricks can be achieved.

Perhaps tellingly, the most popular and exciting events at this year's Winter Olympics seem to have been the events adopted from the X-Games - a competition for the so-called extreme winter sports.

Shaun White
Good friends of mine have definitely distanced themselves. They didn't want to distract me, or get in the way of what I was trying to do

Shaun White

Snowboard cross and ski cross, where competitors tackle a course studded with jumps, bumps and huge turns in a battle to reach the finish first, seem to have particularly caught the imagination of the British public.

White admits snowboard cross is not a sport suited to his 5ft 8in and 155-pound frame, but adds: "Just to humour myself, I'd want to do one race. I'd probably roll up and do one random event."

And, reassuringly for the traditionalist, he says the Winter Olympics would never evolve into "just another X-Games'".

"The X-Games are just wild style. A lot of the Olympics is judged on how long you grab, how big you go, how certain things are done.

"It's actually difficult to be inventive within an Olympics because if you do something the judges don't know, they don't know how to score it and so ultimately you're hurting yourself. The X-Games are just this free for all, you're being judged by your peers in a way."

There seems little left for White to achieve in a sport he has dominated this century other than the "perfect" 50 score.

"They won't give it to me," he jokes. "Maybe if I didn't have the little bobble on the landing of the last trick [in Vancouver] ... but why not still have some goals left?"

The short-term goal, however, is to finish his "European media tour" and spend time with his dog, his family and his friends.

"I've been getting texts from friends on the road, but it's been a strange thing not to see as many people," he says.

"It's funny, those people who are good friends of mine, they've definitely distanced themselves from me. They didn't want to distract me, or get in the way of what I was trying to do. Now they're all flooding back!"

And with that he jumps from his seat and heads towards the trio of guitars he has had his eye on during our interview at a music studio in London Bridge.

"Don't film me," he says in his laidback way. "I don't want people to think I think I'm a rock star."

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see also
Winter Olympics weather
26 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010
Superb White dominates half-pipe
18 Feb 10 |  Snowboarding
Snowboard: Half-pipe
09 Nov 09 |  Snowboarding
Pipe dreams
09 Feb 06 |  Winter Sports
Supreme White wins half-pipe gold
12 Feb 06 |  Winter Sports
Half-pipe highlights - White soars to gold
18 Feb 10 |  Snowboarding
White lands tomahawk for half-pipe gold
18 Feb 10 |  Snowboarding

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