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Fourth-Place Medal

Shaun White talks about bad language, balancing sports and gum

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

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Shaun White was one of the brightest stars at the Vancouver Olympics for the death-defying tricks he performed on the halfpipe, winning his second Olympic gold. He's just as well-known in the extreme sports world, where he excels as a skateboarder. He spoke with Fourth-Place Medal about balancing the two sports, figuring out new tricks, the chewing gum named after him, and his Olympic coach's potty mouth.

One of Yahoo's most-commented-on posts during the Olympics was one written just after White won his gold. He had one run to go, but had already secured the gold. His coach, Bud Keene, talked him into laying down a huge trick, but the off-color language used by Keene was caught by NBC cameras. White was surprised that the language made the air, but said that his coach was just doing his job.

"He's just like that. He's this rugged guy who is always on the mountain, and he knows that I don't land things unless I have to. I need that pressure to land. So he said, 'If you're going to do it, you better do it.' Trying to get his point across very sharp, he swore on the thing."

White said that Keene laughed at the hubbub afterwards, then used it to make a point to a group of high schoolers.

"He made a speech at a high school where he talked about overcoming obstacles, and when he ended it, he ripped off the Olympic jacket, and it said, 'Land that [expletive].' He's embracing the phrase." {YSP:MORE}

In a recent movie role, White had to use cuss words. Though he doesn't change his personality for the young fans who follow him, he tries to keep his language clean.

"I just did a cameo for the movie 'Friends with Benefits' and I did a lot of swearing. That was a big deal for me because I don't swear when I'm in the public eye. But then I thought, I'm 25. It's a really cool role. I play a jerk in the movie, and the only way people are going to believe it is if I really play into it. So I went for it, and the reaction people had was positive. "

The idea of "going for it" is something that has propelled White's sporting career. He constantly tries for harder and harder tricks in both snowboarding and skateboarding. He'll experiment with tricks until one works the right way, but once he has decided to do a trick, he removes the fear from his head.

"If you have a doubt in your mind that you might get hurt or you might not make this trick, your odds of not making it go extremely up. I found that if I'm going to do something, I have to fully commit to it. If you have fear in your mind, you should just walk away. Come back when it's not there, or learn to channel that in a different way. That's one of the things in the sport that's helped me along the way is that ability to commit."

Two-sport athlete

White's career is also marked by his success in two sports. Besides the two Olympic gold medals, he has five X Games medals for skateboarding and 16 Winter X games medals for snowboarding. That success, however, doesn't mean that he thinks balancing the two sports is easy.

"When the snow starts to fall in November or December, I'll leave skateboarding behind. The toughest part about that is that all those other skateboarders stay on the ramp. They never leave. They get to practice their tricks all year round. When I come back, I not only have the aches of relearning new tricks and getting familiar with my board again, and plus learn something brand new that's going to beat these guys. It's a bit of a challenge, but I've done it for years now."

But going back and forth between the two also keeps White fresh.

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"I always assume that's almost my secret, because when I come back to the sport, I'm excited again. I'm so enthusiastic about being there, and learning new tricks, and wanting to win, that I can learn much faster than the guys that are doing the same thing every day."

What keeps White going is that he does have so many people who think he can succeed.

"I think I draw motivation and inspiration from the fact that people believe in me. Everybody asks about the Olympics, and they say, 'All that pressure! All those people! You had to win.' And I say, 'Yeah. Exactly. It's not an option. I can't let these people down.' I turn it into a different mindset, where it's, 'All these people believe that I can do this. I bet I can.' I turn it into a positive thing."

You can add gum marketer to the list of his jobs. White worked with Stride Gum on a new flavor, Whitemint.

"We sat down in a room and chewed 20 pieces of gum, and tested flavors, and thankfully we all chose the same one. That was fun to be that involved. I tasted flavors. I sat down with my brother and we helped create the packaging. What's drawn on the inside. It's really a fun process now that it's out, I keep getting texts that say, 'Hey. I've got your Whitemint in my mouth.'"

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