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Shaun White's Olympic failure is what makes him an American sports hero

Published February 12, 2014 11:09 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Shaun White finished fourth in the halfpipe Tuesday. It was a surprising failure for the reigning snowboard champion, but one that shows why White should be celebrated.

The 27-year-old White took two runs down the halfpipe Tuesday. Both were simultaneously spectacular and disastrous. During his first attempt, White tried to pull off the complicated "Yolo" trick — which includes two flips, four mid-air rotations and looks absolutely gravity-defying to the uninitiated — but crashed his landing. Moments later, White tried another double-cork trick, got caught on the lip of the halfpipe, and went down hard.

Despite the botched tricks, White wasn't out of contention for the gold medal after his first run down the half pipe. The pressure was on — as the announcers stressed over and over again — but despite a better run, White still suffered from awkward landings and failed to raise his score to medal levels.

The gold instead went to Iouri Podladtchikov, inventor of the Yolo trick. Jason Blevins of the Denver Post called the outcome a "shocker' and a "stunner."

So why does this make White anything but a washed up ex-Olympian?

It's because White took risks. Big risks.

During White's first run, it didn't take an expert to tell that White was pushing himself higher and faster than his competitors. He was going for gold and if it didn't work out no one could accuse him of holding back. When he finished, after a pair of crashes, the announcers pointed out that his coach was probably advising him to play it safe and stick to what he knew he could land.

But that's not what he did.

Instead, White pushed himself again — and failed. It was a gamble, but one that's easy to admire.

These also weren't the first risks White took. Earlier, White backed out of the slopestyle event in order to focus on the halfpipe. The decision drew criticism from some, but Slate pointed out that it was a "calculated decision" that plays into White's sometimes-reviled drive for victory.

Which is a good thing; White may be a lone wolf in his sport, but that's mostly because he apparently cares enough to put everything on the line.

Much has been written about White's Sochi failure, and much more will be written, but his performance and his decisions show one thing: he believes in going big or going home. It's the American way (or at least our cultural narrative suggests it is), and if this time it didn't work out for Shaun White, he should at least be celebrated for embracing risk.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii