Shaun White–Photo Courtesy of RedBull Profiles

While former snowboarding Olympic gold medalist (and X Games skateboarding gold medalist) Shaun White seemed like a shoe-in to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team, it wasn’t until he clinched the gold in the 2nd Grand Prix event in the halfpipe at Mammoth Mountain, CA, on Saturday, January 9, 2010, that assured him a spot on the team.

“I’m happy to be on the team and secure that spot,” commented Shaun in a press release after the event. “Now I can just work on my stuff and get dialed. I was feeling great because I had a second and a first, and that’s pretty strong hold on getting on the team. But a first and a first is guaranteed, so I’m really excited.”

As we reported in November, “Judging Shaun White -The Olympic Challenge,” if a trick’s so new that a sporting event judge has never seen it before, how does a judge judge it? Especially an Olympic judge?

Not that Shaun was trying to prove a point, but after winning his first run at the Grand Prix, he tried a double cork McTwist 1080 -a new trick, that as far as we can tell, has never been completed in competition (or maybe it has, but either way, it’s really hard). Shaun didn’t quite land it and actually went bigger into a 1260, but as he said, “It’s been a trick that’s been messing with me for a while, but I’m excited to try and put it down in Park City and hopefully at the Games.”

Such is the challenge for the Vancouver Olympic Games next month when it comes to figuring out exactly what Shaun White is up to. In an excellent story in the Wall Street Journal about the Olympics, it talks about how Canadian snowboarder Marcello Centurione, a judge, has been shadowing Shaun White to his secret Superpipe at Silverton Mountain in Colorado to figure out his tricks in order to get a handle on how to judge him. Also known as the “Johnny Moseley Effect,” after the mogul skier completed an amazing new trick called the “Dinner Roll” in the Salt Lake City 2002 Games, it appears that Shaun White (and a few others in the “new” sport of snowboarding) has caused a bit of a conundrum for the Olympics. (And let’s not even get started about the uneducated TV news reports about how “extreme” and “dangerous” snowboarding is after the unfortunate accident by Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce.)

The difference with snowboarding in the Olympics versus other sports (besides the fact that it’s newer, way more accessible, and simply more fun to watch) is that other sports such as skating and mogul or freestyle skiing are calculated in advance: The athletes in these sports have to reveal their tricks and only get to pick from a handful (pre-chosen from Olympic judges, unfortunately). With snowboarding, riders don’t have to reveal their tricks before they perform, which gives judges less than 2 seconds in some cases, to judge them on something some may have never seen before -and most likely have never done before.

The Olympics admit that the snowboarding halfpipe event will be one of the most difficult challenges for judging because riders like Shaun White will undoubtedly pull off new maneuvers.
The bummer however is that new tricks aren’t always scored high simply because a judge may not get it. For example, Johnny Moseley’s “Dinner Roll” at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics ruled, but it was new, and the judges scored his competitors higher for tricks they knew, instead of Johnny’s Roll, which he landed cleanly.

Others likely to make the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team include 2nd place Louie Vito who pulled a double cork, cab double cork, air, backside 9, frontside air for the silver, and JJ Thomas who came in 3rd.

For the women, Gretchen Bleiler won the halfpipe with a new run she’d never done before including a frontside 9, backside 5, crippler 720, cab 7, and a straight air -bringing her a step closer to being on the Olympic team.

“I feel awesome. This whole season I’ve just been trying to figure out a run for myself, and today I switched it up completely and figured out a run that I’ve never done before, and it worked for me,” Gretchen said. “It feels really good to win today and I feel so much more confident. With a win today and a second in Copper, I’m pretty good right now. I’m excited to go back to the Olympics and represent our country in women’s snowboarding.”

Other hopefuls for the women include former Olympian Elena Hight, former Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter, who finished in 3rd at the Grand Prix, and former Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark, who came in 4th at the Grand Prix.