American riders charm Olympic crowd
Shaun White entered the United States Olympic halfpipe team’s official press conference in Vancouver yesterday balancing a coffee cup and wearing black shades.
The 23-year-old reigning Olympic champion, worth an estimated annual $8-million in endorsements and the global face of snowboarding, later confirmed The Flying Tomato is old news and he should now be nicknamed Animal.
Seated next to White, Louie Vito – of recent Dancing With The Stars fame – described how Olympic pressure is nothing compared to twirling on national television dressed in clothes “I wouldn’t wear on Halloween.”
And Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter, after a few tousles of her long blond hair, leaned into the microphone and announced her newest charity initiative.
“All the ladies out here can get some Sweet Cheeks Panties soon,” she said.
No, this isn’t your average Olympic squad. And that’s the way they like it.
“They probably are a little jealous,” Gretchen Bleiler said of other athletes in the Olympic Village. “We do have a lot of fun.”
Among these eight competitors are clothing designers and Sports Illustrated bikini models and (in White’s case) the stars of two video games, but they are also pioneers of their sport, the current men’s and women’s X Games champions, and three former Olympic gold medalists who are favoured to repeat.
In a season that has been defined by groundbreaking new tricks such as the double cork, White and his teammates have led the charge. After developing new signature moves at a private halfpipe hidden on the backside of Silverton Mountain in Colorado, White landed his new signature Double McTwist 1260 at two recent competitions and established himself as the clear favourite in a competitive international men’s field.
On the women’s side, Bleiler and Teter, along with 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, could possibly sweep the podium in women’s halfpipe competition. But they also said yesterday that they will have to battle Torah Bright of Australia and members of the Chinese squad – gymnasts plucked out of Chinese sports schools five years ago and introduced to snowboarding with the intention of finding the podium in 2010.
“It’s going to be the best women’s final we’ve seen to date,” Clark said.
They all spoke about the recent rapid progression of their sport with excitement and good humour (“We fall. We get back up. We try again,” White said), but they have reason to be serious.
Kevin Pearce, one of the few riders who has ever beaten White and a favourite to make the Olympic team, remains in a rehabilitation hospital in Utah. He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Dec. 31 while attempting a double cork, a double-flipping manoeuvre that nobody was completing last season, but has suddenly become the must-have manoeuvre of the Games.
“The natural progression of any sport is faster higher stronger,” said the team’s coach, Mike Jankowski. “Obviously, safety is a concern, that’s No.1.We’ve learned a lot along the way about how to coach these tricks. It’s just amazing what they’re out here doing.”
The team has a few days to kill before they get their first training run on the snow-challenged Olympic halfpipe at Cypress Mountain on Sunday. The men compete on Feb. 17, and the women compete the following day.
“They have McDonald’s at the Olympic village. I’ll hit that every morning,” Teter said.
Then she added: “Not.”
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