The new breed: Soccer mom drove Shaun White into snowboarding

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

TURIN, Italy -- Snowboarding -- and the U.S. Olympic team -- may owe a debt to a bossy soccer mom in Southern California.

Shaun White, the free-spirited U.S. snowboarder favored to win gold, says he was a pretty good soccer player but gave up the sport mostly "because of the soccer moms. ... It was just intense to me."

To hear White tell it, he was one of the best players on his rec team in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, when he was about 11 years old, but showed up late for a game one day because he had stayed too long at a skateboarding demonstration.

That's when he got an earful from the mother of a teammate.

"This mom snapped on me," White recalled Monday at a news conference with the rest of the U.S. halfpipe team. "She said, 'You get out there, and you score!' And I was just like, 'Whoa!' When someone else's mom yells at you, it's pretty intimidating."

Goodbye, Pele. Hello, Tony Hawk.

White by then was already entering amateur skateboarding competitions and got his first sponsorship deal at age 13. Now, at age 19, the snowboarder known as "The Flying Tomato" for his unruly mane of red hair is one of the Americans hoping for another U.S. podium sweep in Turin on Sunday.

First Olympic appearance

In his first Olympics, White is certainly peaking at the right time. He won all five of the Grand Prix events to qualify for Turin and also took home two gold medals from the Winter X Games.

"I'm feeling pretty confident after the Grand Prix and the X Games and stuff leading into this. I hope we sweep again," he said. "I really honestly have to say that it's a very likely chance that it could happen again because the team's pretty amazing.

White said he'll be cranking up some "Back in Black" by AC/DC for his run, and he'll certainly have everyone looking at the sky -- soaring as much as 20 feet above the halfpipe.

Asked if there are any "snowboard moms" in his sport, White smiled and said there were, but that they "are a bit more relaxed."

"I'm a fan of the snowboard dads. They're chill. They just hang out, and like, 'Go son. Do it up!"'

White said his whole family joins him in snowboarding. "My dad's 56 now and he shreds. He's awesome," White said.

Skateboarding seemed such a natural fit for White after soccer "because you don't need to get the team together to play, you don't need to have all these things, you don't need a coach."

"You just get your skateboard and you go out in the street and you figure it out and you have fun with your friends," White said.

So far, Turin has been no different.

Although their "work" on Monday was appearing at the obligatory news conference and getting their uniforms, White and some of his U.S. teammates have entertained themselves by driving around town and shouting impromptu "good day" greetings in Italian at unsuspecting residents of this gray, industrial city.

"We've just been yelling 'Buon giorno!' at people while driving by. That's been the best. Because they look at you and then they're kind of confused. I think the people here are pretty cool," he said, and then added for emphasis, thrusting his arms up: "Buon giorno!"

After the news conference ended, the fun continued. Halfpipe teammate Andy Finch, spotting a red fire extinguisher in the corner, mused aloud, "Do you think they would get mad if I lifted this up and started spraying it around?"

He then proceeded to take the name plate reading "A. Finch" and balance it on his head as he answered more questions.

Finch said he found out only recently that his maternal grandparents have family who actually live in Turin -- and he's hoping to visit them after the competition.

Also at the news conference was Elena Hight, who at 16 is among the youngest U.S. Olympians (Figure skater Kimmie Meissner is a month and a half younger). Her post-event schedule is a little more serious -- exploring angles and curves as part of her high school math class.

"I come down from the hill and I do my one-hour study session," she said.

White is making other plans.

"I think it will get pretty crazy if the Americans sweep again. I don't know -- I think people are going to party no matter what," he said.

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