With his Double McTwist and second straight gold, Shaun White reaches new heights in the halfpipe

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010; D07

VANCOUVER, B.C. Set an extra place at the White House table. Guess who's coming to dinner?

Well, Shaun White wants to come to dinner. The rest is up to you, Mr. President.

After snowboarder Shaun White won the gold medal in the halfpipe Wednesday night, he was asked how he planned to celebrate. Refreshingly, Disney World didn't get a mention. Space Mountain can't compare to the things Shaun White can do with a board.

"To meet the president of the United States would be cool," White said. "Go to the White House. I'm free for dinner."

Invitations should be pouring in from all over the country after Wednesday night's performance, which capped a record-setting day for the U.S. team -- three gold medals, one silver, two bronze, most in a single day for America at the Winter Olympics.

The three athletes who won gold -- Lindsey Vonn, Shani Davis and White -- are all dominant in their sports. But there's dominant, and then there's dominant. And you don't have to be able to distinguish a Double McTwist 1260 from a Double McFlurry $2.50 to know that White -- who was defending the gold he won in Turin four years ago -- was far superior to the rest of the field Wednesday night. His first run in the finals was so jaw-dropping, breath-taking, awe-inspiring -- and cliche-taxing -- that every La-Z-Boy shredder in America knew the gold had been won.

Five judges graded each run down the 22-foot-high walls of the Cypress Mountain halfpipe on a 1 to 10 scale, looking for the vaguely worded overall impression of the run. White's first-round score of 46.8 was four points better than the next competitor and so superior, he didn't need to make a second run. He literally could have just run right down the middle of the pipe, "which would have been cool," and still won the gold.

Instead, he pulled a new trick out of those baggy drawers: the Double McTwist 1260, which includes two board-over-head flips within 3 1/2 turns. As spectacular as the first run was, the second was better, a 48.4.

"I just felt like I didn't come all the way to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns," White said. "I put down the tricks I've worked so hard on. It was the savvy thing to do. Saucy. Keep it weird. My coach said at the top: Don't do this unless you're going to stomp it."

Saucy. Weird. Stomp it. Snowboarding has its own language, its own dress code, its own swagger and attitude. Boarders, shredders, whatever you want to call them, invent their own tricks and the names to go with them. White said Wednesday night that the Double McTwist 1260 "has now been deemed 'The Tomahawk' after a steak I had in Aspen. It was massive, 30 ounces. I finished it."

When snowboarding was added to the program in 2002, some felt the marriage between the often-stuffy Olympics and the never-stuffy sport would never last. Think Juan Antonio Samaranch meets Lady Gaga.

But White's continued success makes me think these crazy kids are going to make it after all. He's engaging, entertaining -- and apparently quite the charmer. Asked what she most enjoyed about the Opening Ceremony, Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette said: "I got my picture taken with Shaun White. It was pretty exciting." Ashley Caldwell, the 16-year-old aerialist from Hamilton, Va., named White as the Olympian she most wanted to meet. (If you're in doubt about dinner, President Obama, ask Malia and Sasha for their thoughts.)

White's also a terrific spokesman for his sport. He could earn more than $8 million this year from endorsement deals with Target, Burton, a video game bearing his name, American Express, Hewlett-Packard, Oakley and Red Bull, which has led some in the anti-establishment snowboarding community to label White a sellout. The energy drink maker built White a private halfpipe so remote he has to be delivered there by helicopter, which doesn't help his street cred among some boarders.

But like it or not, White is the face of the sport in mainstream America. At 23, he has two Olympic gold medals and says of being the veteran member of the U.S. team: "I felt like Papa Bear." He said he'll take a break from inventing tricks, or at least I think that's what he said -- "I'm sure that we've hit the spike and I'm hoping it will mellow out" -- but said Thursday during a "Today Show" appearance that he's game to try for the 2014 Games in Sochi.

He's not quite as sure where the sport is headed.

"We try to break the boundaries and see what we can do," he said. "I think we're just tapping into what is possible. I wish I could predict the future. We have to go create it."

Who better than White to be a part of that creation?

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