KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The long hair is gone and so, too, is his Flying Tomato nickname.
Shaun White looks and sounds like a different guy these days. He’s remade his image, from a free-spirited snowboarding hipster with crazy red hair to clean-cut corporate spokesman who looks comfortable in a suit and tie.
The snow- boarding acrobat has turned his Olympic and X Games dominance into celebrity status that makes him one of the most recognizable American athletes in the Sochi Games.
“I may have lost a little bit of hair but I’m still the same guy,” White said. “I definitely take things a bit more seriously nowadays just because I feel like I’m getting older. That just happens when you get older. You think more. When you’re younger you don’t really think about that. For me, cutting my hair was not a decision to become more serious and more grown up. I still approach competitions the same way.”
In other words, he’s determined to protect his turf in the snowboarding halfpipe competition. White will attempt to three-peat as gold medalist in the halfpipe on Tuesday. He won that event in Torino in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010.
The rise in popularity of action sports – with White as a pioneer – has reinvigorated the Olympics by making it more attractive to a younger generation.
“I’m honored that our sport is helping bring new viewership to the Olympics and a fresh take on the Olympics,” White said. “I think it’s cool. I’ve been to two Olympics before and I think what it did for the sport was great. It brought eyeballs to the disciplines and the athletics of the sport. It no longer was looked at as sort of a daredevil thing. Now I feel like it brings some legitimacy to both sides. Not only does the Olympics need snowboarding, but I think snowboarding benefitted greatly from the Olympics.”