By Julien Pretot
Jan 28 (Reuters) - Shaun White is already the face of snowboarding. Now the American wants to rock the Sochi Games and leave the Olympics as the most decorated athlete in his sport.
White, a 13-times Winter X Games gold medallist, already has two Olympic titles to his name, having won the halfpipe event at the Turin and Vancouver Games.
He will defend his title in Russia, where he will also have the chance to add the slopestyle gold medal to his tally as the discipline described as a skatepark on snow is making its Olympic debut at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
White, a regular at the Winter and Summer X Games but not the World Cup circuit, also happens to be the lead guitarist in the Bad Things rock band who just released their first album.
Once dubbed the Flying Tomato for his red locks of hair - which are now gone - admits he has a little catching up to do in the slopestyle event, where he is learning new tricks to keep up with young guns like Japan's teenage sensation Ayumu Hirano.
As a 15-year-old prodigy Hirano finished second to White in the superpipe event at the 2013 Winter X Games.
"He is an amazingly talented snowboarder. He seems tiny so I think he can flip faster than me", said White, who skipped this year's Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, to focus on the Olympics - an event he both likes and hates.
"It's something you don't really realise how great it was until it's over. It gives eeverything purpose," he told the BBC's "Ski Sunday" programme.
"After my first Olympics I didn't know what to do with myself. I got super depressed, and I didn't know how to make myself feel the same than at the Olympics.
"It's a funny sport because it's built around everyone's friends and we are, we like one another and we're cool with one another but if you're in a competition you wanna win."
Winning is pretty much what White does for a living so it will take his opponents' best efforts to prevent him from claiming a double in Sochi.
Among his opponents is Canadian Mark McMorris, a three-times X Games gold medallist who specialises in slopestyle.
McMorris will make his Olympic debut in Sochi despite falling hard and breaking a rib in the X Games in Aspen.
"While I'm sore I'm continuing my road to Sochi," McMorris said after the crash into a rail.
U.S. team mate Danny Davis will also be in the frame after winning the X Games superpipe in Aspen last week.
Another Canadian, Sebastien Toutant, is also among the favourites in the slopestyle event, whose women's version should be dominated by American Jamie Anderson, although she also had problems in Aspen, suffering a fall and being edged out by Norway's Silje Norendal.
While north Americans tend to dominate in snowboard, Australia's Torah Bright will be the woman to beat in the halfpipe competition as she looks to defend the title she won four years ago in Vancouver.
Bright will have her hands full though as she will also compete in slopestyle and snowboard cross.
"I am thrilled and cannot wait to seize my moments in Sochi!" Bright, who carried the Australian Flag at the Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony, said.
Australia have another strong medal hope in double snowboard cross world champion Alex Pullin.
"The first Olympics was great, it's a totally different scene from anything else out there. It's so huge and overwhelming but most of all for me it's fun," said Pullin, who heads into the Games having coped with the pressure of defending a world title.
"It's perfect timing, I feel really good. The Sochi track is fantastic."
The women's snowboard cross could be a Canadian affair with runaway World Cup leader Dominique Maltais and defending Olympic champion Maelle Ricker, competing at her fourth Olympics, in good form, although American Lindsey Jacobellis will be eyeing another chance to win the gold she threw away in agonising fashion in Turin in 2006.
Ricker won gold and Maltais took silver in last year's world championships.
Benjamin Karl of Austria is the favourite in the parallel giant slalom, but also a top contender in the parallel slalom, with Slovenia's Rok Marguc also a safe bet.
Swiss Patrizia Kummer and Czech Ester Ledecka are the top two in the parallel slalom and giant slalom, but they will face a stern challenge from local favourite Ekaterina Tudegesheva. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman)
- Sports & Recreation
- Shaun White
- Winter X Games