(Reuters) – In a sport where youth can trump experience, three-time Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White wears his age as a “badge of honour” as he vies to compete at a fifth Olympics.
The American was 19 when he picked up his first gold at the 2006 Turin Games and cemented his legacy as the most successful snowboarder of all time when he triumphed in dramatic fashion at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Now 35 years old and hoping to compete in the 2022 Beijing Games, White said he was adapting to his status as the elder statesman of his sport.
“I’ve been the youngest competitor as long as I can remember but I wear it now as somewhat of a badge of honour in a sense,” White told reporters at the USOPC media summit.
“To be on top of a sport that’s ever-changing and for this amount of time, it’s been a challenge.”
Staying on top has been as much a mental challenge as a physical one, he said, after settling for fourth place at the 2014 Sochi Games and having to once again harness his passion for competing.
White clinched gold in 2018 on his final run in the halfpipe final, earning a 97.75 for a spectacular display.
“In Sochi, I’d lost something; I’d lost this edge that I had,” said White. “It was (a) really emotional and sort of heavy journey to find that again.”
The 13-time Winter X Games champion had once hoped to compete in the debut Olympic skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Games but dropped his bid in early 2020, deciding he was not ready to walk away from snowboarding and immediately “switching gears” back to winter sports.
The path has not always been easy.
He withdrew from the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, earlier this year with a knee injury and said it took him longer to recover from the usual bumps and bruises that come with the high-flying sport.
“I will admit, you know, it is getting harder – just the day in and day out (and) the grind of doing these tricks,” said White.
“I took a really bad crash a couple of days ago and I remember I would just kind of like bounce back up and feel great but I’m like, ‘Ooo might need a couple more days rest before I get back out there’.”
However, the Californian said he would not rule out another Olympic bid, after updating virtually every element of his routine from how he practices and spends his time on the hill to how he approaches his diet and sleep.
“I always say it might be (the last) just because it is how it feels,” said White. “Time kind of keeps moving on and I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, I feel pretty good, I’m motivated, I’m excited’ and then boom, I’m at the next Olympics.
“So I wouldn’t count the next one out.”
Places on the U.S. snowboard halfpipe Olympic team will be allocated based on rankings and performances in qualifying events, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)